Over $1.3 Million in Back Wages and Damages to be Paid by Restaurant and Spa Owners for Wage and Hour Violations

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Although a Bellingham restaurant and a spa have closed, 101 workers once employed by the businesses will receive more than $1.3 million in back wages and damages, thanks to a Washington State jury. The decision is the result of a U.S. Department of Labor investigation that revealed numerous violations of federal labor law. 

A unanimous verdict found that the workers were systematically denied minimum wage and overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act by business owners Huang "Jackie" Jie and Zhao "Jenny" Zeng Hong. The lawsuit was filed in 2013 against the two owners and their companies, Pacific Coast Foods, Inc., doing business as J&J Mongolian Grill, and J&J Comfort Zone, Inc., doing business as Spa Therapy. The jury also found that the defendants interfered with and retaliated against workers, most of whom spoke little to no English, who cooperated in the Labor Department's investigation.  

The department's Wage and Hour Division found that employees of the J&J Mongolian Grill and Spa Therapy put in on average more than 70 hours during a six to seven day workweek. A number of the workers were paid less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, and none of them received overtime pay for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek. Both businesses were located in Bellingham's Bellis Fair Mall.

The department brought the case to court to stop the business owners, who have since divorced, from continuing to break the law and to recover wages owed to 101 cooks, kitchen helpers, cashiers and masseurs. The jury awarded the back wages and also awarded compensatory damages to four employees who had suffered retaliation, including threats, reduction of hours and, finally, termination of employment because they refused to be silenced about the defendants' labor law violations.

The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour as well as time and one-half their regular rates for every hour they work beyond 40 per week. The FLSA also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees and requires employers to maintain accurate records.

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