For years, Manhattan residents have enjoyed the delights of Saigon Grill, a Vietnamese restaurant owned and operated by a self made entrepreneur from Cambodia named Simon Nget. Unfortunately, behind the scenes of this bustling eatery, serious wage theft violations were going on. According to a New York Post article from October 22, 2008, these blatant violations included the following:
• Paying delivery workers $2 an hour – well under the minimum wage of $7.15.
• Demanding that employees cash their paychecks and then return significant portions of the money to Nget in cash.
• Fining employees for failing to put orders into the system computer.
• Firing workers who picketed the restaurant for unfair practices.
The District Court judge who oversaw the case, Michael Dolinger, drove home a message — not just to Nget but also to other restauranters in New York City who might be unfairly garnishing their employees’ wages or committing other forms of wage theft — that behavior like failing to pay overtime and unfairly classifying employees as independent contractors would not be tolerated.
All told, the Vietnamese cuisine owner was ordered to pay out $4.6 million to three dozen delivery employees – many of whom were illegal immigrants from China – to cover wages lost, punitive damages, Federal and State wage violations, and other fines and expenses. One delivery worker was awarded over $300,000.
Whether Judge Dolinger’s ruling will send an effective message to others in the business to community remains to be seen. But it’s good to see at least some crackdown on egregious wage violations and harassment practices.