Women Abused and Exploited by New Jersey Chinese Restaurant, ACLU Charges

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
October 31, 2005 12:00 am

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NEWARK — Two immigrant waitresses at the Rainbow Buffet restaurant in Fairview, New Jersey were exploited by their bosses, deprived of wages and tips, and subjected to physical and emotional abuse, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The restaurant’s practices, the ACLU lawsuit charged, violated federal and state labor laws as well as state tort law. The ACLU seeks to recover for its clients all unpaid minimum wages and unpaid overtime compensation, and has asked the court to award appropriate compensatory and punitive damages. The ACLU previously 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.

“”Unfortunately, immigrant workers are easy targets for unscrupulous employers, and female immigrant workers face the added burden of gender discrimination and sexual harassment,”” said Claudia Flores, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and a lead attorney in this case. “”The Rainbow Buffet management not only violated labor laws by relentlessly exploiting our clients, they also allowed these women to be abused and humiliated by male employees.””

The women, Mei Li and Li Wang, recount disturbing incidents of exploitation that took place during their employment at Rainbow Buffet between November 2003 and August 2004. During that time, the waitresses 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.

Li and Wang also charge 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.

“”Our clients suffered extreme emotional distress and humiliation at the hands of their co-employees with the full knowledge of their employers, who did nothing to stop the harassment,”” said Jean-David Barnea, an ACLU cooperating attorney who is serving as co-counsel in the case. “”Rainbow Buffet’s actions are clearly unlawful under state and federal labor, tort and discrimination laws.””

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 Chinese Restaurant in Wayne, New Jersey. That case was filed in June 2003 on behalf of waitresses Mei Liu and Shu Chen, who charged that they were kept under the complete control of their employers, were paid no wages for their work, had to pay a daily kickback out of their tips to the restaurant owners, faced gender and ethnicity discrimination, 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.

“”Too often immigrants, especially women, feel that they have no choice but to accept illegal working conditions,”” said Nancy Eng, Program Director of the Chinese Staff and Workers Association. “”Hopefully, the lawsuit brought by these brave women will send a message that immigrant workers should not have to tolerate this kind of abuse and can come together to assert their rights.””

Today’s lawsuit, Li v. Rainbow Group Inc., was filed in United States District Court in Newark. The EEOC charges on behalf of Li and Wang were filed on August 23 and are currently under investigation.

In addition to Flores and Barnea, other attorneys in the case are Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and Edward Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. Flores, Lapidus and Barocas are also co-counsel in the King Chef case, Liu v. Oriental Buffet Inc.

For a copy of today’s complaint, go to: /womensrights/employ/21238lgl20051031.html

For more information on Liu v. Oriental Buffet Inc., go to: /womensrights/employ/13228prs20050617.html

For general information on the ACLU’s work on behalf of immigrant women, go to: /womensrights/index.html

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