New York, NY...A Manhattan federal court ruled on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, that the owner of the Kum Gang San restaurants, Ji Sung Yoo, fraudulently transferred his property to his wife in order to avoid paying a wage theft judgment
of $2.7 million to 11 Asian and Latino workers.
The court also ordered that Yoo's wife, Sandra, return $950,000 in mortgage moneys that she obtained from the transferred properties, which included a condominium at 320 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, a family home in Little Neck, Queens, and a commercial and residential building on Avenue U in Brooklyn.
Ken Kimerling, AALDEF Legal Director and lead trial attorney on the cases, said: "This is the first time a court has recognized that workers can use fraudulent conveyance laws to collect wage theft judgments, even if the conveyances took place prior to their lawsuit."
He noted the historic growth of wage theft claims by low-wage workers over the past decade. At the same time, Kimerling said, it has become increasingly difficult to collect judgments from employers who hide their assets to avoid paying their workers. By allowing workers to set aside fraudulent conveyances that took place before their wage theft litigation, they can preserve their rights to collect back wages and damages when they win a court judgment."
Former Asian and Latino workers at Kum Gang San, nine Korean American waiters and waitresses and 2 Latino bussers, regularly worked 12-hour shifts without any break time 6 or 7 days a week and without overtime pay. The restaurant also kept part of their tips. The owner once told the workers to "volunteer" to harvest vegetables at the farm owned by a friend of the owners. Workers who failed to do so lost their jobs. When Mr. Yoo learned that some workers were going to sue him, the restaurant threatened workers with blacklisting and deportation. In 2012, eleven workers filed a lawsuit claiming violations of several federal and state labor laws.
In March 2015, after a four-day trial, federal Magistrate Judge Michael Dolinger issued a 161-page opinion
finding that Kum Gang San had paid "grossly substandard wages" and awarding $2.7 million to the eleven workers.
The workers, were represented in both cases by attorneys from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the law firm of Shearman & Sterling LLP.
"The Court held that Plaintiffs presented clear and convincing evidence that the K restaurant owner conveyed valuable real properties with the intent to defraud and deprive his former workers from collecting any of the back wages they were owed," said LatinoJustice's Senior Counsel Jackson Chin. "We're very happy that SDNY Federal Judge Robert W. Sweet saw through the employer's financial shenanigans which were dissected, scrutinized, and now reversed. The workers' back wages award will finally be enforced. This payout signifies a just, joyful and historic moment for our immigrant clients and their families."
Henry Weisburg, the Shearman & Sterling partner in New York who oversaw the firm's efforts, added: "Our firm is proud to have worked continuously with the plaintiffs and AALDEF on this matter, from the original wage theft case, through the defendant restaurant's efforts in bankruptcy to avoid the wage theft judgment, and now in successfully challenging the restaurant owner's attempts to avoid responsibility by transferring his assets to family members."
AALDEF legal director Ken Kimerling further said: "This is an important victory for all workers who are being underpaid by their employers. The damages obtained in these wage theft cases are substantial. The owners and others responsible for the underpayments will be chased down, their fraudulent conveyances reversed, and they will be made to pay the wages and penalties that they owe."
The April 18, 2018 opinion by federal Judge Robert W. Sweet in Kim et al. v. Yoo, et al. can be downloaded here
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For more information, contact:
Ken Kimerling, AALDEF Legal Director
Christiaan Perez, LatinoJustice PRLDEF