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October 22, 2008 1:43 PM

Davis Polk Hands Big Tip to Saigon Grill Deliverymen

Posted by Brian Baxter

Saigon1 A pro bono team from Davis Polk & Wardwell and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund won a $4.6 million judgment on Tuesday for immigrant delivery workers employed at a popular Manhattan eatery.

The civil suit was filed in March 2007 by 36 former employees of Saigon Grill, a Vietnamese restaurant. New York magazine profiled the plight of the workers--deliverymen who emigrated from China's Fujian province--in an August 2007 story.

The plaintiffs accused Saigon Grill's owners of paying them below minimum wage, denying them overtime compensation, and implementing a system of kickbacks and fines for trivial workplace infractions. Twenty-two of the workers whose names appeared on the initial complaint were fired by the restaurant's management, which the court later held was a violation of state and federal law.

The Am Law Daily attended opening arguments of the five-day trial before U.S. magistrate judge Michael Dolinger in Manhattan in June. Judge Dolinger delivered his 79-page ruling this week.

"Today's ruling vindicates the rights of some of New York's poorest and most vulnerable individuals to be treated justly in the workplace," said Davis Polk's special counsel for pro bono Ronnie Abrams in a statement. "We're proud to have obtained a measure of justice for these mistreated workers."

Along with AALDEF legal director Kenneth Kimerling and litigation partner Brian Weinstein, Abrams assisted a Davis Polk trial team that included associates Jonathan Adler, Matteo Rosselli, Edward Sherwin, and William Miller, Jr.

In his ruling, Judge Dolinger determined that Saigon Grill's management violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and New York State labor law. The court awarded the 36 plaintiffs $4.6 million for wage-and-hour violations. (See the end of Dolinger's decision for an employee-by-employee breakdown.) An additional damages award on the retaliation claims will be determined at a later proceeding.

S. Michael Weisberg of New York's Weisberg & Weisberg, counsel for the defendants, did not return a call seeking comment. In June he told The Am Law Daily that he had offered plaintiffs $2 million to settle the case, an offer that he says was rejected.

"Even if they win and get some big verdict, [my client] will go bankrupt," Weisberg said at the time.


Photo by Justin Shockley

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