December 7, 2005
Immigrant worker wins big decision for workers' rights Federal judge
awards full $70,000 in back wages and damages
New York, NY 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 employerjewelry
company ACBL Corp. of Manhattanto 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 employer's 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 weekusually in
cashno 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
yearduring the holidaysI 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 owner's account "replete with
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 NYS DOL opinion letter does not exempt workers paid
over minimum wage because "[t]he 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 wage."
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.
Dos Manos Jewelry