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Post date: June 15 2004

Spitzer Takes Action Against Employment Agencies Making Referrals To Jobs Paying Below Minimum Wage


Attorney General Spitzer today announced settlements with five employment agencies that routinely referred workers, primarily immigrants from Latin America, to jobs that paid less than the state's minimum wage.

Spitzer also announced that his office has filed lawsuits against four other employment agencies in an attempt to shut them down. The ongoing investigation by the Attorney General's Labor Bureau is seeking to determine whether or not employment agencies routinely funnel immigrant workers into sub-minimum wage jobs.

State law prohibits an employment agency from knowingly referring applicants to a job that pays less than the minimum wage, currently $5.15 per hour, and/or does not pay overtime rates for hours worked over 40. Often, employment agencies charge advance fees or deposits to applicants looking for work as unskilled or untrained manual workers, laborers, domestics, household employees.

"Employment agencies, when operating within the bounds of the law, can serve a vital role in linking the unskilled immigrant workforce to much needed jobs. However, when these agencies profit from violating the law – which was designed to protect this vulnerable workforce – they must be shut down," Spitzer said. "We have launched a new initiative to protect immigrant workers and we will aggressively pursue those who attempt to skirt the law."

Under state law, an employment agency is limited in the amount of fees it can charge to place a worker. The agency is also required to refund all fees if the applicant is not hired. For domestics, household employees, unskilled or untrained manual workers and laborers, the total fee, including any deposit, may not exceed in most cases 10% of the first full month's salary or wages or 12% of the first full month's salary or wages if one meal per working day is provided.

Any deposit or advance fee charged may not under any circumstances exceed these amounts and must be offset against any other fee charged once employment is obtained. If an applicant does not obtain employment through the employment agency, then any deposit or advance fee paid by the job seeker must be returned immediately upon demand.

The Attorney General reached settlements with JR Employment Corp. d/b/a JR Employment Agency and its principal Julio Rosique; Lagunes Employment Agency, Inc. d/b/a Rojas Employment Agency and its principal Mario Lagunes; Alma Employment Agency Corp. and its principal Alma Navarrette. Y.J. Monami, Inc d/b/a Doumi Employment and its principal Yoon J. Kim; and, Hyun Dae Employment Service, Inc. d/b/a H.D. Employment Agency and its principal Gi Young Yoon.

The Attorney General's investigation revealed that every agency referred workers on a routine basis to jobs that paid less than $5.15, the state and federal minimum wage. It was not uncommon for over 50% of an agency's referrals to be to sub-minimum wage jobs; in one agency 87% of all applicants were referred to a job that paid less than minimum wage. Also, the investigation revealed that most agencies did not return fees after failing to successfully refer workers to employment, and did not provide receipts for fees charged or copies of the contracts entered with the agencies and the prospective employees. Some agencies charged applicants fees in excess of those allowed by law. Most agencies also violated the Human Rights law by illegally inquiring into national origin, age, sex and /or marital status.

The settlement allows three agencies, JR, Rojas and Alma to continue to do business. These agencies have agreed to comply with all laws governing employment agencies, will be subject to monitoring by the Attorney General's Office, and will pay penalties ranging from $10,000 to $50,000. They have agreed to inform any employer who offers jobs at below minimum wages that the agency cannot refer applicants to the job, to record the information about all employers offering jobs below the minimum wage and to submit that information to the Attorney General's Office. Two agencies, Doumi and HD, have agreed to cease their employment agency operations and pay a civil fine. All agencies will return any monies owed to applicants who filed complaints with the Attorney General.

Individual lawsuits were filed in New York State Supreme Court against four additional agencies: Sam's Employment Agency and its principal Lourival A. Sampajo; Han Mi Employment Agency and its principal Kwang Song Kim; Promotion Employment Agency and its principal Meng Ro Lee; and, L.C. New York , Inc. d/b/a Top Employment and its principal Chae Sun Rhee.

The lawsuits seek an order prohibiting the agencies from operating until they come into compliance with all applicable laws. They also seek civil penalties ranging from $54,000 to $310,000.

For more information on New York labor laws and to file a complaint, please contact the Labor Bureau of the New York State Attorney General's Office at (212) 416-8700 or the website at www.ag.ny.gov.

The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Devin Rice of the Labor Law Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief M. Patricia Smith.

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