LOS ANGELES (Nov. 25, 2014) — On October 9, 2014, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice – LA) reached a settlement on behalf of 13 restaurant workers who filed wage and hour and retaliation claims against Izakaya Fu-ga Restaurant (Fu-ga) in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles.
After an almost nine-month worker campaign to end wage theft at the restaurant, Fu-ga agreed to pay the workers a confidential sum to settle their claims of unpaid wages, tips and unlawful retaliation. Fu-ga also agreed to significant policy changes to insure greater workplace fairness, including management and supervisor training on workplace laws, a fair tip distribution system, annual performance evaluations for both employees and managers, and a commitment to consider annual cost of living increases for workers with satisfactory or better work performance. In addition, Fu-ga agreed to drop its lawsuit against two of the workers for filing – and organizing their co-workers to file – wage and hour claims.
“This was a hard-fought case, but a case worth fighting in light of the positive changes the workers’ campaign was able to accomplish – not just for those brave enough to be involved, but for the entire workforce,” said Laboni Hoq, Litigation Director at Advancing Justice – LA, who represents the workers. “This case shows what can be accomplished when workers know their rights, organize themselves and stand together against employer intimidation and retaliation tactics.”
Since December 2013, with the support of the non-profit Restaurant Opportunities Center – Los Angeles (ROC-LA), Fu-ga workers have been organizing to end wage and hour violations and improve working conditions at the restaurant. As part of their campaign, 13 workers filed claims before the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) for unpaid wages for time worked “off-the-clock,” tip-stealing, meal and rest break violations, and waiting time penalties. These claims totaled approximately $200,000, and Fu-ga agreed to pay a confidential sum to settle their wage claims together with pending fee liability for pursuing unmeritorious civil claims against the workers. But more than just their monetary claims, the workers, many of who had been with the restaurant since it opened in June 2010, demanded and won improved working conditions, including instituting transparency and fairness in tip pooling and work assignments.
“Through organizing and building collective power, Fu-ga workers have won an incredible victory against wage theft and other abuses. ROC-LA is excited to continue building innovative partnerships with organizations like Advancing Justice – LA to support all restaurant workers fighting for justice,” said Kathy Hoang, Executive Director of Restaurant Opportunities Center – Los Angeles.
The workers and Fu-ga remain in talks to hammer out details to implement the changes Fu-ga agreed to in the settlement. “I helped open Fu-ga over four years ago, and stayed with the company for many years. I stand behind the workers still there. It’s not enough for Fu-ga to pay us our back wages. Commitment to evolving the workplace is what really matters,” said Stephanie Alejandro, a former server who settled with Fu-ga.
Fu-ga initially rebuffed the workers’ attempts to peacefully and informally resolve their concerns, and responded with a series of retaliatory acts. Fu-ga forced out two of the most active and long-time workers in the campaign, and sued them for defamation and extortion in connection with their filing wage claims and supporting other workers to do the same. Fu-ga also retaliated against another worker by demanding he produce more work authorization documentation than required by law to harass and intimidate him for his involvement in the campaign. After several current and former workers and ROC-LA advocates peacefully approached Fu-ga’s general manager to ask that he stop the immigration status-based retaliation, Fu-ga sought civil harassment restraining orders against three workers and two ROC-LA advocates.
Advancing Justice – LA represented the workers in their wage and retaliation claims and filed a special motion to strike Fu-ga’s lawsuit under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which prohibits lawsuits brought to chill the exercise of constitutional rights and the right to petition for redress of grievances, which is exactly what the workers were doing by organizing and filing wage claims. Advancing Justice – LA also successfully opposed all of Fu-ga’s restraining orders against the workers and ROC-LA, and filed motions for attorneys’ fees on behalf of the workers and ROC-LA as prevailing parties in the restraining order proceedings.
“We were proud to represent the workers at each stage of their campaign, especially when we were able to fend off the employer’s attempts to co-opt the legal system to intimidate the workers into dropping their claims,” said Yanin Senachai, staff attorney at Advancing Justice – LA, who represents the workers. “We are pleased that the employer finally got the message, and came to the bargaining table with an understanding that there needed to be not only just compensation for the workers who brought wage claims, but also significant policy changes throughout the workplace to ensure workplace fairness before the workers would back down.”
Advancing Justice – LA’s representation of former and current Fu-ga workers in their Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) wage and retaliation claims is part of Advancing Justice – LA’s workers’ rights initiative. In addition to representing Fu-ga workers, Advancing Justice-LA also holds worker’s rights clinics in partnership with community-based organizations such as the Filipino Migrant Center (FMC). The FMC worker’s rights clinic is held in Long Beach, and includes in-language intake, and free legal advice and counsel regarding workplace labor violations. To find out more about the worker’s rights clinic or workers’ rights issues more generally, call 1-888-349-9695.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles is the nation’s largest Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) legal and civil rights organization and serves more than 15,000 individuals and organizations every year. Founded in 1983 as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Advancing Justice – LA’s mission is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and to create a more equitable and harmonious society. Through direct legal services, impact litigation, policy analysis and advocacy, leadership development and capacity building, Advancing Justice – LA seeks to serve the most vulnerable members of the AANHPI community while also building a strong AANHPI voice for civil rights and social justice.