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'Shot Across the Bows': Restaurant Workers Win $2.7 Million Suit

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Nine Korean and two Latino restaurant workers have been awarded $2,672,657 in damages by a US District Court from Kum Gang San, a large and well-known Korean restaurant with multiple locations in New York, for various labor law violations.

“Korean restaurant owners have to a large extent not been sued for labor law violations in the past, unlike Chinese restaurant owners, particularly in New York’s Chinatown,” Ken Kimerling, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) legal director, told NBC News. “This decision should be like a shot across the bows of the other Korean restaurants; they too are vulnerable to large damage awards unless they change their practices.”

The court found that the restaurant and its owner, Ji Sung Yoo, did not pay workers minimum wage, required workers to work ten to twelve hour days five to seven days a week without overtime pay, and routinely withheld tips from customers who paid with credit cards. Workers also had to work without pay on their days off, including once having to pick cabbages and chili peppers on a farm. The restaurant also made workers create false time cards. Workers who refused were threatened with blacklisting, were not scheduled, or were forced to quit.

“Defendants not only persisted in paying these and other employees grossly substandard wages and diverting some of their tip income,” wrote Judge Michael H. Dolinger in his 151-page decision, “But -- in violation of statutes and regulations -- they made sure to deny the workers any information that would disclose the violations of their rights.”

Local media report that this is not the first time Kum Gang San has been in violation of labor laws. It was fined $140,000 in 2005 for not paying workers correctly, $4000 in 2010 for violating child labor laws, and $1.95 million in 2011 for wages owed to 66 employees.