workers file lawsuit against new jersey nail salon chain

Received word from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), about four Korean workers who have filed a lawsuit against a New Jersey nail salon chain Ji Ji Nails, Inc. and its owners for years of unpaid minimum wage and overtime pay, as well as racial discrimination and a verbally abusive work environment. Here's the press release:

AALDEF Also Files Discrimination Charge With Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Unfair Labor Practice Charge With National Labor Relations Board

Newark, NJ - The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund's (AALDEF) New Jersey-Asian American Legal Project (NJ-AALP), with the pro bono legal assistance of law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham, & Taft LLP, announced that it has filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on behalf of four Korean workers against a New Jersey nail salon chain Ji Ji Nails, Inc. and its owners for years of unpaid minimum wage and overtime pay. The chain is doing business as Color 4 U Nails, 4 U Nails, Art Nail, and Suesie's. AALDEF also filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board for anti-organizing activity and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for discriminatory labor practices against the Korean workers.

AALDEF Staff Attorney Alex Saingchin said: "These workers endured tremendously difficult conditions in an intolerable work environment. The employers never paid overtime to the workers, and many were not even paid the minimum wage. In addition, the employers fired workers after they organized a meeting to discuss the discriminatory practices taking place at the nail salons."

The workers labored up to six days a week for ten hours or longer each day, from morning to night, providing manicures and pedicures at a non-stop pace. Often they worked without breaks to eat or rest. Federal and New Jersey State laws require employers to pay their workers at least the minimum wage, as well as overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week, but Ji Ji Nails failed to pay the workers their lawful wages.

Moreover, these Korean workers were discriminated against by their employers through an illegal compensation system, in which the employers purposefully rotated more customers to non-Korean employees. Moreover, the employers promoted a verbally abusive work environment with racial slurs such as "I hate Koreans," "Koreans are all idiots," and "I hate Korea."

Earlier this year, several of the workers came together to discuss ways to improve their working conditions and to stop the ongoing discrimination and abuse at the nail salons. After meeting with the employers to convey their suggestions, Ji Ji Nails resorted to retaliatory tactics and fired two of the workers to send a message that it would not tolerate dissent.

Nicole, a worker at the Morris Plains location of Ji Ji Nails, said, "I can't let the employers get away with the way they treated me and my co-workers. If we let them think they can get away with this, they will just continue to exploit other workers and the cycle will continue. The lawsuit and charges are not just about me. They are about standing up for all workers."

Daniel, who also worked at the Morris Plains location, commented, "We had to endure terrible working conditions with really bad employers for a very long time. It was very stressful working there. But I am glad we are now getting help from AALDEF. We want our co-workers who are still facing these horrible working conditions to come forward and join us in our fight."

Bethany Li, AALDEF Staff Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow, said, "Workers have rights to minimum wage and overtime pay. They have rights to organize for better working conditions. And they have a right to work free from discrimination. Workers have these rights regardless of their immigration status." Li continued, "All employers must comply with labor laws, and we are ready to aggressively pursue employers who choose to disregard basic workers' rights."
Props to these workers for standing up and speaking out. This is just one case where nail salon workers were exploited and forced to work in hostile conditions -- and sadly it's usually Asians exploiting other Asians. Fortunately, more and more are coming forward, refusing to stay silent. For more on this case, and other workers' rights cases, visit the AALDEF website here.

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