Federal Judge Awards Full $71,000 in Back Wages and Damages
New York—In a precedent-setting decision released yesterday, federal court Judge Leonard B. Sand ruled in favor of immigrant worker Doo Nam Yang, and ordered Yang’s former employer—jewelry company ACBL Corp. of Manhattan—to pay the full claim of $70,960.57 in back wages in overtime, as well as additional damages. The case, litigated by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), also reaffirmed an employers obligation to pay spread-of-hours wages in New York State to employees who work more than 10 hours in a single day.
Mr. Yang, 50, is a Korean immigrant from Argentina who worked as a jewelry
craftsman over the span of seven years at ACBL. His employer required him to
work more than 40 hours a week, and typically seven days a week for more than 90
hours a week during the holidays. However, Mr. Yang was paid only a fixed amount
each week—usually in cash—no matter how many hours he worked.
“The decision is a great victory for both Mr. Yang and immigrant workers everywhere because it shows that employees cannot be forced to work incredibly long hours without being paid overtime and spread-of-hours wages,” said Steven Choi, Director of the Korean Workers Project, a joint project of AALDEF and YKASEC. “The law is on the side of the workers, and employers who think they can exploit their workers without legal consequence will end up being brought to justice,” he added.
Mr. Yang said, “When I worked at ACBL Corp., at this time of the year—during the holidays—I would actually be working in the factory every single day of the week, and on weekdays, 14 hours day, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. But ACBL and its owner never paid me a cent of overtime wages for all that work. They fought me every step of the way, but I knew my rights and that we would win in the end.”
After a two-day trial in November, Judge Sand of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found violations of federal and state labor laws. Even though Mr. Yang had no records of his actual hours of work, the Court relied on his oral testimony of his recollected hours. His employers had the obligation to maintain records and failed to do so. The owner of ACBL, Han Sung Lee, tried to undermine Mr. Yang’s testimony by producing falsified timesheets, but the Court found the owners account replete with contradictions.
The case was also the first to test the spread of hours rule in federal court.
New York State law also provides that employees such as Mr. Yang are entitled to
an additional hour’s pay at the basic minimum hourly wage rate for any day in
which “the spread of hours”—defined as the “interval between the beginning and
end of an employee’s workday”—exceeds 10 hours. The judge specifically rejected
the owner’s claim that a New York Department of Labor’s opinion letter, which
posits that spread of hours pay does not apply in calculating damages if a
worker’s wage is above minimum wage, exempted the company from spread-of-hours
obligations. Judge Sand decided that the opinion letter does not exempt workers
paid over minimum wage because “the effect of adopting the agency’s
interpretation would be to carve out an exception to the spread of hours
provision for workers who are properly paid overtime and make more than minimum
The Korean Workers Project provides direct legal services free of charge to low-wage Korean immigrant workers through AALDEF, in conjunction with YKASEC Empowering the Korean American Community. Through community education and outreach, the Korean Workers Project seeks to protect the rights of these Korean immigrant workers and to help them achieve social and economic justice.