ACLU Argues That Exploited Restaurant Workers Should Not Be Denied Their Day in Court

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
May 26, 2005 12:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA — Before a federal appeals court today, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that a federal trial court wrongly dismissed a sex discrimination and labor exploitation lawsuit brought by two immigrant waitresses against a Chinese restaurant.

“Justice is not served when a case is dismissed without reason or warning,” said Claudia Flores, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “These women have suffered egregious treatment at the hands of their employer and they deserve their day in court, where their complaints can receive an open and fair hearing.”

The case was filed in June 2003 against King Chef Chinese Restaurant in Wayne, New Jersey, on behalf of two immigrant waitresses, Mei Ying Liu and Shu Fang Chen. The women were discriminated against by their employers because of their gender and ethnicity, paid no wages or overtime and housed in an overcrowded, vermin-filled apartment. Their complaint recounted numerous disturbing instances of discrimination and exploitation that occurred at the restaurant between May 2000 and November 2001. The ACLU lawsuit charged that the restaurant’s practices violated federal and state labor laws as well as federal and state civil rights laws.

In 2003, when the restaurant failed to respond to the lawsuit, a federal judge ordered the restaurant to pay $3.5 million to the women, who had worked an average of 80 hours per week, six days a week, and were never paid wages or overtime. Yet when the restaurant argued that the defendants had never been properly served with the complaint, the court set aside the judgment and threw out the entire case, thus denying the waitresses the chance to present their case.

The ACLU is urging the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to rule that the District Court erred by not giving prior notice before dismissing the case. Because the court gave no notice in advance of the dismissal, plaintiffs had no chance to show that three of the seven defendants had in fact been served with the complaint and that the remaining four evaded service in order to avoid responsibility.

The lawsuit, Liu v. Oriental Buffet Inc., was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark, before Judge Katharine F. Hayden. The lawsuit also names An Na Zheng, Xiao Yang Zheng, Ben Liang Zhu, Frank Chan, Metropolitan Buffet and Di Gi Ching as defendants in the case.

Edward Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey serves as co-counsel in the case, along with Samuel Cornish of the New Jersey based law firm Lowenstein, Sandler PC, who serve as volunteer attorneys for the ACLU of New Jersey.

The complaint in Liu v. Oriental Buffet Inc. is available online at /node/35097.

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