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Post date: July 6 2005

Worker Fired For Seeking Minimum Wage Receives Back Pay, Damages

State Attorney General Spitzer today announced an agreement requiring the owner of a Manhattan restaurant to provide back pay and damages to an employee who was allegedly fired because he sought the state-required minimum wage.

Under the agreement, Ho Ming Cheng, owner of Oriental Pearl Japanese Restaurant at 207 E. 59th Street, will pay $17,000 in back wages and damages to a former delivery worker, Zheng Wei Qian.

Qian delivered takeout food orders by bicycle to customers on the East side of Manhattan and earned only approximately $3.50 per hour plus tips – rather than the required $4.10 per hour.

The case began when Qian read a public service announcement about the minimum wage that was placed in Chinese newspapers by the Attorney General’s office. He showed the announcement to his boss, and asked for a raise to meet the minimum requirement. But Cheng refused repeated requests from Qian, and later fired him.

"Our office stands behind workers who speak up for their right to earn wages required by law," Spitzer said.

Wing Lam, Executive Director of the Chinese Staff and Workers, a not-for-profit group which defends workers rights, said: "This is a great win for employees. The Attorney General's Office did a very good job. We hope other employers learn from this example and comply with the law."

In January 2005, the New York State minimum wage was increased from $5.15 an hour to $6.00 an hour for most workers. At that time, the minimum wage was also increased from $3.50 an hour to $4.10 an hour for those who receive tips, including restaurant delivery workers.

The Attorney General’s Office launched a campaign in early March to educate the public about the new minimum wage after a survey showing that many working New Yorkers were not aware of the new standard.

The New York State minimum wage will further increase to $6.75 an hour for most workers on January 1, 2006 and to $7.15 an hour on January 1, 2007.

The $17,000 paid to Qian represents $790 in minimum wage under-payments for the time he was working at Oriental Pearl, approximately $4,000 for the period between the time he was fired and Meng Cheng sold Oriental Pearl in May of this year, and more than $12,000 as damages in lieu of reinstatement to his former job.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Karen Kithan Yau under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Jennifer Brand of the AG’s Labor Bureau.