$403,900 in Back Wages and Liquidated Damages Against United Buffet for Minimum Wage, Overtime and Record-Keeping Violations

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
A U.S. district court judge has ruled in favor of the U.S. Department of Labor in a case against a buffet-style Chinese restaurant in Sunnyvale, awarding 32 employees a total of $201,950 in back pay and an equal amount in liquidated damages. Judge Ronald M. Whyte approved the department's request for a default judgment in a lawsuit against United Buffet Inc., operating as Crazy Buffet, and manager Zhou Ni after they refused to pay $44,569.63 in unpaid minimum wages and $157,380.37 in overtime compensation that resulted from violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions.

"This employer showed a complete lack of concern for its employees and for the law," said Susana Rincon, director of the San Francisco District Office of the department's Wage and Hour Division, which investigated the restaurant's pay practices. "We are committed to ensuring compliance with the law to protect the rights of employees."

United Buffet issued paychecks to restaurant employees at Crazy Buffet, located at 830 E. El Camino Real, but required wait staff to return their wages, keeping only tips. The employer also did not pay for any hours worked beyond 40 in a week, although employees' hours of work averaged 60–72 per week. Finally, the employer falsified records of time and attendance, and pay.

In addition to awarding the workers back pay and damages, the court granted the department's request for an injunction preventing the employer from committing future FLSA violations, as well as an injunction against continued withholding of unpaid compensation. The employer did not appear at the court proceedings to present a defense.

The registered owner of the restaurant is Zhou Ni's nephew, Steven X. Ni, of Torrance, who was not named in the suit.

The restaurant industry is a priority for the Wage and Hour Division, due to the prevalence of FLSA violations found and the number of vulnerable, low-wage workers it employs. When violations are disclosed, the division uses all enforcement tools available to remedy them and bring employers into compliance.

The FLSA requires that covered nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. In accordance with the FLSA, an employer of a tipped employee is required to pay no less than $2.13 an hour in direct wages provided that amount plus the tips received equals at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. If an employee's tips combined with the employer's direct wages do not equal the minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. Employers also are required to provide employees notice of the FLSA tip credit provisions, and to maintain accurate time and payroll records.

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