NEW YORK, Aug 30 (Reuters) – A group of Chinese workers who say they were forced
to take meal breaks in bathroom stalls are suing their former employer for
discrimination and retaliation.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, thirteen
employees who were fired from the kitchen staff at Le Colonial Restaurant, on
East 57th Street, claimed they had to work in harsh conditions, including
standing for 10 hours a day in excessive heat.
They were not allowed into air-conditioned areas during their breaks, and were
restricted to one bathroom, the lawsuit said. If they wanted a second meal
break, they had to eat in the bathroom stall, the suit said. A 61-year-old
worker with a back injury was forced to stand, and a cook was told that his food
was “cooked for animals,” according to the complaint.
After repeated pleas to their employer, they were fired Aug. 3, said their
attorney, Brian Shenker of Xue & Associates.
Shenker said the restaurant did not have a system for handling complaints of
Representatives for Le Colonial, which has locations in San Francisco and
Chicago, did not reply to requests for comment.
In addition to the state complaint, Shenker said his clients plan to file a
federal lawsuit for wage violations.
Ken Kimerling, legal director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education
Fund, said workers are “treated in this way in part because the employer thinks
that they won’t fight back because of language and maybe even immigration status
INCREASING ACTION BY WORKERS
But workers are increasingly realizing that they have a right to complain and
that judges will believe them if they take legal action, he said.
In July 2008, 36 delivery workers of Asian descent won a $4.6 million verdict
against Saigon Grill, a popular chain restaurant in Manhattan, for non-payment
of wages and overtime.
That settlement came on the heels of a suit by 43 Chinese servers, deliverymen
and other workers who accused Ollie’s Noodle Shop & Grille, also in Manhattan,
of wage violations. The case was resolved, according to the Urban Justice
Center, which brought the suit with the law firm of Shearman & Sterling,
although neither would comment on the terms of the resolution.
Several nonprofit organizations that advocate for higher wages and better
working conditions have co-sponsored an ongoing campaign focused on the service
industry, called Justice Will Be Served, according to JoAnn Lum, executive
director of National Mobilization Against Sweatshops. The effort includes
protests, collective bargaining and litigation, Lum said.
The case is Ming Cheung Chan et al v. Le Colonial Restaurant Corp. et al, New
York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 109882.
For Ming Cheung et al: Benjamin Xue and Brian Shenker of Xue & Associates.
For Le Colonial et al: Not immediately known.
(Reporting by Jennifer Golson)