AALDEF represents a wide variety of individuals--from immigrant workers seeking a living wage to trafficking survivors who have escaped exploitation to school teachers and professionals. They are Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, South Asian, Thai, Japanese and Laotian, among other ethnicities, recent immigrants and long-time American citizens. These are some of their stories:
Ke Yu Guan, restaurant delivery worker
"My fellow delivery workers and I were paid much less than the minimum wage, and we were treated badly by our employer. When we tried to stand up for ourselves, some of us were fired. AALDEF worked with Chinese Staff & Workers' Assoc. to help us gain our dignity and rightful wages by representing us in our lawsuit against Saigon Grill restaurants. Thanks to AALDEF we were able to assert our rights in court and win a major $4.6 million award. It was a long fight but AALDEF stood with us every step of the way. Now I can look forward to a better life with my family. And restaurant owners understand that they can't get away with breaking laws -- they have to follow minimum wage laws and pay workers what they deserve under the law."
Ke Yu Guan (left, with AALDEF legal director Ken Kimerling) was one of 36 immigrant Chinese delivery workers represented by AALDEF in their successful federal lawsuit against the Saigon Grill restaurants and owners. In fall 2008, a federal judge ruled on behalf of the delivery workers and awarded over $4.6 million in back wages and damages to them.
Marichu Baoanan, immigrant worker
"I feel so grateful to the many people who have helped me. AALDEF has helped me to find my voice, and now I can speak up when other workers could not do so. I have the strength to face the people that mistreated me. No one should be abused because of who they are or who they work for. My case has gone farther than I had ever imagined, and I look forward to finally having my day in court."
Ms. Baoanan (center, with her attorneys, Aaron Mendelsohn of Troutman Sanders and AALDEF staff attorney Ivy Suriyopas) was trafficked to the U.S. in January 2006 by a former UN representative from the Philippines and his family. She believed that she would receive assistance to find employment as a nurse. Instead, the diplomat and his family alleged a substantial debt against Ms. Baoanan and subjected her for three months of involuntary servitude, forced labor, peonage, debt bondage, and slavery as a domestic worker in their home on Manhattan's Upper East Side. AALDEF helped Ms. Baoanan file for a T visa and reunite with her family. AALDEF is currently representing Ms. Baoanan in her federal complaint against her traffickers.
Lori Phanachone, student
"AALDEF helped me assert my rights as a student, and I will always thank AALDEF for their attention and hard work.
Thanks to AALDEF, the high school corrected its unfair treatment of me. Most importantly the school system has changed the way they classify students to make the system more fair. Not everyone will have to be tested like I was just because they speak a different language at home."
A high school honors student with a 3.98 GPA, Lori protested having to take an English Language Learners test. School administrators reacted by suspending her for three days and barring her from extracurricular activities. Their actions resulted in her dismissal from the National Honors Society and threatened her outstanding high school record. After AALDEF intervened, Lori's membership in the honor society was restored, and the school system agreed to revamp their method of classifying English Language Learner students. Lori is now a college freshman.