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Former Kum Gang San workers win $2.7M lawsuit

By Madina Toure

Kum Gang San, a Korean restaurant in Flushing, and its owner have to pay nearly $2.7 million in back wages to 11 former employees for committing wage theft, a federal magistrate judge ruled last week.

Eleven former employees of Kum Gang San at 138-28 Northern Blvd. in Flushing filed a lawsuit against Kum Gang San Inc. owner Ji Sung Yoo and his brothers, Ji Yong Yoo and Kyung Rae Yoo, who set wages and maintain the records of the business as well as the Flushing restaurantmanagers Chunsik Yoo and Myungja Lee, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan.

Kum Gang San’s owner and lawyers representing his company could not be reached in time for the story.

Each worker kept track of what they were entitled to, with the nearly $2,672,657.30 broken up into what each worker is being compensated, according to Jose Perez, associate general counsel at LatinoJustice, who represented the plaintiffs. The restaurant and the owner are liable for the entire amount, he said.

The employees — eight waiters, two bussers and one kitchen worker — worked at the restaurant at various times between 1997 and 2012, according to Magistrate Michael Dolinger in a memorandum and order dated March 19. The company also operates another restaurant at 49 W. 32nd St. in Manhattan.

The employees were working below minimum wage, were not paid overtime and were asked to conduct non-work related tasks without compensation, Perez said.

“The judge found all the 11 workers credible and in the judge’s decision, he goes through meticulous detail about what each individual plaintiff is awarded,” he said.

Although the workers were tipped employees, or employees who regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips in their jobs, they were still entitled to full minimum wage because the restaurant did not fulfill conditions needed to take a tip credit, according to the lawsuit.

Workers were paid below the full minimum wage, which was $7.25 at the time — now $8.75 — and even below the tipped minimum wage, according to the lawsuit.

A worker should have earned $462.19 in minimum wage pay, overtime compensation and spread-of-hours pay for working 52.5 hours over five days per week, but a worker who was paid $35 a day earned $175 for the week and a worker who was paid $60 a day would only earn $300.

They regularly worked more than 40 hours a week without overtime pay, the lawsuit said.

Five workers were also allegedly forced to create fraudulent time cards of less than 40 hours a week for the restaurant’s hourly employees.

Waiters who worked in the regular dining hall worked more than 12-hour shifts and dining hall waiters worked five or six days a week throughout the year, the lawsuit said. Waiters who worked for banquet parties often worked longer hours than the regular dining room waiters.

Waiters were paid per diem rates of $30 or $35 although some waiters got $55 or $60 with more job duties, but by January 2011 waiters were paid by the hour, most at $5 an hour, the former employees claim.

Bussers were paid between $46.60 and $65 a day, and their rates did not increase substantially after they started working at the restaurant, they said.

The workers were also forced to take on jobs for the owner outside of the restaurant, including working for Yoo’s Assi Plaza and JanChi JanChi restaurants and picking cabbages at a farm at the restaurant’s direction, they added.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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