New Jersey Chinese Restaurant Settles Waitress Exploitation Lawsuit Brought by ACLU

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
May 2, 2006 12:00 am


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NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that it has settled a federal lawsuit against the Rainbow Buffet restaurant in Fairview, New Jersey, brought by two immigrant waitresses who say they were exploited and subjected to physical and emotional abuse

“Low wage immigrant women workers are often vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of their employers,” said Claudia Flores, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and a lead attorney in this case. “We hope this settlement encourages women in oppressive situations to stand up for their rights.”

The ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the ACLU of New Jersey brought the lawsuit on behalf of two Fujianese women, Mei Li and Li Wang. In legal papers, the women recounted disturbing incidents of exploitation that took place during their employment at Rainbow Buffet between November 2003 and August 2004. During that time, the waitresses said they worked for more than 60 hours per week for far less than minimum wage. Each woman was paid only $120 per month in wages for nearly 300 monthly work hours. The Rainbow Buffet management also systematically confiscated portions of the tips the waitresses received from customers, according to the lawsuit.

The ACLU charged that the restaurant’s practices violated federal and state labor laws as well as state tort law. The ACLU also filed charges of sexual harassment and wrongful discharge on the women’s behalf with the Newark Area Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Li and Wang said that busboys and other employees at Rainbow Buffet intentionally hit them, touched them against their will, made humiliating and menacing sexual comments and threatened them, all with the full knowledge of management, who did nothing to stop the acts.

“More and more Chinese workers taking sweatshop jobs in New Jersey and other parts of the country have been coming to our center reporting workplace abuses and intimidation,” said Nancy Eng, Program Director of the Chinese Staff and Workers Association. “Amidst the recent backlash against immigrant workers, today’s settlement is a testament to the courage of these two young women to say enough is enough—we will not live in fear.”

The ACLU Women’s Rights Project, which regularly advocates on behalf of low-income immigrant women, is representing two other women in a similar case filed against King Chef Buffet in Wayne, New Jersey. That case was filed in June 2003 on behalf of waitresses Mei Liu and Shu Chen, who charged that they faced gender and ethnicity discrimination, were paid no wages for their work, had to pay a daily kickback out of their tips to the restaurant owners, were housed in an overcrowded, vermin-filled apartment and were threatened with death when they stopped working at the restaurant. The case is currently pending before the district court.

“Labor exploitation is a serious problem that plagues many immigrant workers, especially women,” said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Sexual discrimination and economic exploitation is illegal and employers need to know that they cannot take advantage of immigrant women with impunity.”

The legal agreement between Rainbow Buffet and the waitresses does not allow either party to disclose the settlement amount. In addition to Flores and Lapidus, other attorneys in the case are Edward Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey, and ACLU cooperating attorney Jean-David Barnea. Flores, Lapidus and Barocas are also co-counsel in the King Chef case, Liu v. Oriental Buffet Inc.

For more information on this case, go to: www.aclu.org/womensrights/employ/21250prs20051031.html

For more information on Liu v. Oriental Buffet Inc., go to: www.aclu.org/WomensRights/WomensRights.cfm?ID=18523&c=175

For general information on the ACLU’s work on behalf of immigrant women, go to: www.aclu.org/WomensRights/

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