Davis Polk & Wardwell, in conjunction with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (“AALDEF”), won a judgment in excess of $4.6 million on behalf of 36 current and former employees of Saigon Grill, a popular Vietnamese restaurant with locations on the Upper West Side and near Union Square. The judgment, which follows a five-day bench trial in June in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, holds Saigon Grill and its owners and managers responsible for failing to pay its delivery workers in compliance with federal and state labor laws over the last decade.
The plaintiffs—35 delivery workers and one employee who packed delivery orders—are all immigrants from China’s Fujian Province whom Davis Polk is representing pro bono. Without knowledge of their legal rights, the workers were paid well below the minimum wage, in some cases less than $2.00 an hour, and did not receive overtime compensation for workweeks that lasted as long as 80 hours. Twenty-two of the delivery workers were fired in March 2007 in retaliation for planning to bring this lawsuit. In addition to awarding plaintiffs approximately $4.6 million for wage-and-hour violations, the court also found that defendants illegally retaliated against the 22 plaintiffs who were fired from their jobs as delivery workers when the defendants learned that they were planning to bring this lawsuit. Damages on these retaliation claims will be determined in a later proceeding.
“Today’s ruling vindicates the rights of some of New York’s poorest and most vulnerable individuals to be treated justly in the workplace,” said Ronnie Abrams, Special Counsel for Pro Bono at Davis Polk. “We’re proud to have obtained a measure of justice for these mistreated workers.”
“We are thrilled with the court’s decision,” said Sharon Katz, a partner at Davis Polk and co-head of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee. “This is not only a well-deserved victory for the workers at Saigon Grill, but also will serve as an important precedent for future cases brought on behalf of underpaid workers.”
The Davis Polk trial team included associates Jonathan L. Adler, Matteo J. Rosselli, Edward Sherwin and William R. Miller Jr. These lawyers received assistance before and during trial from partner Brian S. Weinstein, Special Counsel for Pro Bono Ronnie Abrams and Kenneth Kimerling of AALDEF. Summer associates Matthew Jacobs and Gerald Moody, legal assistants Charles Seidner, Jonathan Reiss, and Christina Chang, and summer legal assistant James Giampietro also assisted throughout the trial. Associates Brenda Chen and Jessica L. Freese also assisted before trial. All members of the Davis Polk team are based in the New York office.