ACLU Wins $3.5 Million on Behalf of Waitresses Exploited at a Chinese Restaurant in New Jersey

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
September 25, 2003 12:00 am

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NEWARK- A federal judge has ordered a Chinese restaurant to pay $3.5 million to two immigrant waitresses who were exploited by their bosses based on their gender and ethnicity, deprived of wages and tips, and housed in a crowded, substandard apartment, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.

“”This judgment is significant not only for the substantial amount of money that it awards, but also for the message that it sends: low-wage immigrant women’s dignity and labor are valued just as much as anyone else’s,”” said Jennifer Arnett Lee, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, which represents the waitresses.

The ACLU’s lawsuit described numerous disturbing incidents of exploitation that took place between May 2000 and November 2001 at the King Chef restaurant in the northern New Jersey suburb of Wayne. During that time, Mei Ying Liu and Shu Fang Chen – who are from Fuchow in southern China’s Fujian Province – worked an average of 80 hours per week, six days a week, and were never paid a base wage. They were discriminated against based on their gender and ethnicity, and housed in conditions that violate the public policy of New Jersey.

These practices, according to the ACLU lawsuit, violated federal and state labor laws as well as federal and state civil rights laws. The court granted the ACLU’s request for $157,411 in compensation for unpaid minimum wages and unpaid overtime, $3,225,000 compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorneys’ fees. The two women will divide the judgment according to the amount of time they worked at the restaurant.

“”Immigrant workers face a tremendous amount of exploitation, and female immigrant workers face the additional burden of being discriminated against based on their gender – yet they have also been more reluctant to come forward,” said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “”We are gratified that the court has recognized our clients’ right to earn a living free from exploitation and we intend to use this judgment as leverage in other cases where workers are being abused.””

The lawsuit, Liu v. Oriental Buffet Inc., was filed on May 22, 2003 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 and Frank Chan (who maintains numerous aliases) as defendants in the case.

Edward Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey serves as co-counsel in the case, along with Alix R. Rubin and Patrick Whalen of the New Jersey-based law firm Lowenstein Sandler PC, who serve as volunteer attorneys for the ACLU of New Jersey.

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