$531,000 In Back Wages and Damages in Wage and Hour Case

Monday, September 26, 2011

A federal judge has ordered Wok King International Buffet Inc. and New Wok King International Buffet Inc., both doing business as Wok King International Buffet in Kennewick, and company officers Guang Ri Weng and Zhen Fang Weng to pay $265,483 in back wages plus an equal amount in liquidated damages to 41 restaurant employees.

The order resolves a lawsuit that was filed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor after an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division revealed violations of the minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Chief Judge Roseanna Malouf Peterson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington previously had granted a motion for summary judgment requested by the department. The judgment holds the defendants jointly and severally liable for all violations, and includes a permanent injunction prohibiting them from future FLSA violations, including continuing to withhold unpaid overtime compensation.

“Wage and Hour Division investigators found that some Wok King International Buffet employees worked an average of 63 hours a week without proper overtime compensation, and some earned wages as low as $1.93 per hour. Unfortunately, this case is just one example of violations often found in the restaurant industry, which employs many vulnerable workers – non-native English speakers and others who are not aware of their rights under federal law,” said Donna Hart, director of the division’s Seattle District Office. “The Labor Department is committed to ensuring that all workers receive their rightfully earned wages. The resolution of this lawsuit demonstrates that we will use all enforcement tools available, including litigation, to protect workers against exploitation and ensure compliance under the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

Investigators from the division’s Seattle office determined that some restaurant employees were paid “straight time” wages for all hours worked, rather than one and one-half times their regular rates for hours worked in excess of 40 per week, as required by the FLSA unless employees are exempt. In addition, investigators found that some employees were paid a fixed monthly salary that failed to account for overtime compensation and amounted to less than the required federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour. The defendants also failed to maintain required records of employees’ work hours and wages, and to produce many of the records requested during the investigation and in the course of the litigation.

Under the FLSA, for those employees who customarily and regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips, employers may pay a base rate of $2.13 an hour in direct wages if the tips cover the difference to fulfill the federal minimum wage.

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