San Francisco

Burmese Restaurants to Pay $4M in Wage Theft Settlement

A total of 380 workers for a Bay Area Burmese restaurant chain are due to receive about $4 million by the end of this year in a settlement of a state agency's wage theft investigation.

The settlement between the state Labor Commissioner's Office and restaurant owners Mike Lee and John Lee and their companies was signed on Jan. 7 and announced by the commissioner's office this week.

The agreement concerns present and former workers at Burma Ruby in Palo Alto and Rangoon Ruby restaurants in Palo Alto, San Francisco, San Carlos, Burlingame and Belmont. The Belmont restaurant recently closed.

The settlement is for alleged failure to pay split shift premiums, overtime, minimum wage and sick leave. The bulk of the funds -- a total of $3.8 million -- will go to 89 cooks, according to agency spokesman Lucas Brown. They will receive an average of $35,659.

Other recipients, who will get an average of $2,639, include servers, dishwashers, bartenders, hosts and people who bus dishes.

The owners issued a statement Thursday saying, "There are many aspects of the employment provided by Rangoon Ruby and Burma Ruby which have nothing to do with wage claims.

"The Ruby restaurants provided immediate employment opportunities to asylum seekers from Burma, who often arrived in this country with no more than a backpack. The restaurants provided chefs with two free meals a day and provided chefs with the option of free housing for as long as they wished to use the housing," the owners said.

"The settlement was a compromise and was reached without any admission of liability. We worked very hard with the Labor Commissioner's Office to resolve this matter on positive terms. We support the Labor Commissioner Office's efforts to see that all restaurant workers are paid appropriately," they said.

California Labor Commissioner Julie Su stated, "Workers deserve to be paid for their labor, and this settlement puts the earned wages back in their pockets."

The pact provides for a payment of $400,000 on Jan. 11, which has been made, $1.8 million by Aug. 8 and $1.8 million by Dec. 1. It includes $61,211 in civil penalties payable to the state.

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