Nepali Worker Announces Lawsuit Against Masala Wok & Grill for Fraud and Severe Labor Abuse

Monday, Apr 2, 2012

240_4.2 Press Conference.jpgA Nepali immigrant worker who was subjected to abuse, fraud, and egregious labor violations at the hands of his former employer, Long Island Indian fusion restaurant Masala Wok & Grill, announced the filing of his complaint against the restaurant and its owners, Shivaji Pathak and "Tony Malik" in New York Supreme Court. The worker, Rabin Kumar Biswokarma, is represented by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and is a member of Adhikaar, a Woodside-based human rights group.

Biswokarma, who now lives in New York City, was hired as a kitchen assistant at Masala Wok & Grill in July of 2011. He was required to live in isolated group housing with his co-workers, which included a basement space with extremely poor conditions that endangered his health. He chopped meat and vegetables, cooked, and cleaned for a minimum of 10 to 12 hours a day often without breaks, once for 21 days straight. Pathak and Malik even denied him leave to seek medical attention after he injured his hand with a kitchen knife.

Though Biswokarma had been promised a salary of at least $500 a week, Pathak and Malik gradually lowered his pay week by week, paying him as little as $100 a week and eventually paid him nothing at all. Because Masala Wok & Grill is located in Selden, a Suffolk County town located hours from New York City, Pathak and Malik essentially forced Biswokarma to choose between homelessness or working indefinitely for little or no pay.

"People must be free to work without being oppressed," said Biswokarma. "I want to speak out against the way I was treated. I am filing this complaint because I don't want other people to be entrapped by these restaurant owners." Biswokarma quit the restaurant at the end of October 2011, and approached organizers at Adhikaar to learn about his legal rights.

Biswokarma's complaint, filed on March 30th in New York Supreme Court, Suffolk County, alleges violations of both New York state and federal laws, including unpaid wages, minimum wage, overtime, and spread of hours, against Pathak, Malik, and Tonimil Inc., the corporate name of Masala Wok & Grill. His complaint further alleges fraud based upon the false representations that Pathak and Malik made while hiring and continuing to employ Biswokarma.

"We believe these restaurant owners intentionally lure vulnerable workers with false promises of dignified work, and then isolate them in remote locations to extract their labor," said AALDEF Attorney Shirley Lin. "That these defendants attempted to cheat a person into working for little more than a dollar an hour, and still refuse to pay Mr. Biswokarma his rightful wages, is unconscionable. They must be held accountable."

"Unfortunately, Mr. Biswokarma's experience is not unique," said Luna Ranjit, Executive Director of Adhikaar. "Adhikaar has worked with many workers who have been cheated of their wages to recover their hard-earned money. Often employers hold back a few weeks' worth of salary, with promises of paying in the near future, or give checks that bounce. Unable to recover the money after multiple attempts, some workers give up. Mr. Biswokarma is very courageous to speak up for his rights."

Download the complaint [pdf]

Workers interested in learning their legal rights should contact Adhikaar at 718.937.1117 or AALDEF at the AALDEF helpline at 888.406.1555.

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