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A federal judge in Newark entered a $3.45 million default judgment Sept. 24 in a civil rights suit by two waitresses against owners of a Chinese restaurant. According to the suit against King Chef Buffet in Wayne, the women were deprived of wages and tips, kept in squalid housing and discriminated against based on their gender and ethnicity. Judge Katharine Hayden granted the default judgment motion after the restaurant’s owners failed to answer the suit. Hayden’s order awards the women $157,411 in compensation for unpaid wages and overtime; $3,225,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, and $70,510 in attorneys’ fees and $2,263 in costs. In Liu v. Oriental Buffet Inc., 03-2406, the plaintiffs alleged violations of 42 U.S.C. sec. 1981, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Equal Pay Act, the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The suit also claimed that the women were entitled to relief for the substandard housing based on violations of public policy. The plaintiffs, from Fujian Province in southern China, said their bosses constantly called them “stupid Fujianese women” and that male servers from northern China received preference in assignment of tables. The women’s only income was from tips, from which management took a cut, and frequently they were not allowed to wait tables and were required to perform other uncompensated tasks, the suit said. The women worked 80 hours a week and were housed with more than a dozen other employees in a small apartment in Paterson that had no hot water. Plaintiffs Mei Ying Liu and Shu Fan Chen were represented by Alix Rubin and Patrick Whalen, both counsel at Roseland’s Lowenstein Sandler, and Jennifer Arnett Lee, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in New York. “This judgment is significant not only for the substantial amount of money that it awards, but also for the message that it sends. Low-wage immigrant women’s dignity and labor are valued just as much as anyone else’s,” says Lee, of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. Lowenstein Sandler, which took the case pro bono, has agreed to donate its portion of the fees from the case to the ACLU. Rubin says the next task is to seek enforcement of the judgment against the four owners, who use numerous aliases and recently sold the restaurant.

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