Our groundbreaking workers’ rights litigation is based on a model of litigating for social change, in which workers are involved in case decision-making and strategizing. This client-centered model has led to significant Advancing Justice - LA victories, including increasing corporate accountability for sweatshop conditions in the garment industry, as well as systemic change, with the passage of Assembly Bill 633, the nation’s strongest anti-sweatshop law.
Bureerong v. Uvawas (1995)
Advancing Justice - LA was lead counsel for 80 Thai garment workers who had been enslaved in a sweatshop in El Monte, California, where they had lived and worked under armed guard and behind barbed wire, sewing garments for the nation’s leading manufacturers and retailers. These workers had been held for up to seven years in a two-story apartment building where they suffered severe physical and psychological injuries while working in deplorable conditions. Advancing Justice - LA, in coalition with several other non-profit legal groups and private law firms, sued the manufacturers and retailers on behalf of the Thai workers as well as 22 Latino workers who sewed in a front shop affiliated with the El Monte sweatshop.
In the first federal lawsuit of its kind, the workers alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, California Labor Code, and negligence theories against companies whose garments were sewn in sweatshop conditions. The lawsuit established precedent for holding manufacturers and retailers accountable for the conditions in which their clothes are made. The case resulted in two published opinions – 922 F. Supp. 1450 (C.D. Cal. 1996) and 959 F. Supp.1231 (C.D. Cal. 1997). The case ultimately settled for an amount in excess of $4 million.
Advancing Justice - LA also was instrumental in obtaining S-visas, issued to persons who assist federal law enforcement investigate and prosecute crimes, for the Thai workers who were otherwise at risk of deportation. This case was one of the first instances in which a large group of low-wage workers obtained S visas, creating a path to lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship.
The following firms and organizations co-counseled the case: Rothner, Segall, Bahan & Greenstone; Hadsell & Stormer (now Hadsell, Stormer, Keeny, Richardson & Renick); ACLU of Southern California; Asian Law Caucus; Equal Rights Advocates; ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; and Bird, Marella, Boxer & Wolpert (now Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Lincenberg & Drooks).
Chen v. Ramirez (1999)
Advancing Justice - LA brought wage and hour claims on behalf of garment worker Ms. Hsiu-Chu Chen against well-known clothing manufacturers including BCBG Max Azria and garment factory operators. Ms. Chen often worked six days a week in sweatshop conditions, and at times earned little more than $3.00 an hour.
In retaliation for bringing suit, one of the defendant manufacturers, City Girl, Inc., filed counterclaims and a third-party complaint against Ms. Chen and APALC, respectively, alleging defamation, trade libel, and unfair business practices. Pro bono counsel Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP defended Ms. Chen and Advancing Justice - LA, filing a special motion to strike under the California anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute. Thereafter, the parties entered into a settlement agreement requiring that defendants to pay $30,000 and that City Girl dismiss its counterclaims.
Bian v. Reebok, Emeraldtex (1999)
Advancing Justice - LA brought wage and hour claims on behalf of Chinese garment workers who sewed clothing for Reebok at a factory located in El Monte, California. The workers worked 12 to 16 hours a day and were paid as little as $2 an hour. Advancing Justice - LA secured an early settlement with Reebok and the sweatshop operator.
Ceja v. AZ3, Inc. (2000)
Advancing Justice - LA brought wage and hour claims on behalf of Latino garment workers against well-known manufacturers including BCBG Max Azria. The manufacturers had hired an independent monitoring company to inspect working conditions at the garment factory. When the workers told the independent monitor that they were not paid minimum wage or overtime, they were fired. Despite reports from the monitor indicating “Fail” grades for the sweatshop where the workers labored, the manufacturers continued to use the sweatshop. The routine and continued violations of workers’ rights revealed the failure of private monitoring to effectively end sweatshop abuse in the garment industry. The case settled, affording the workers back wages, statutory penalties, and damages.
Zhao v. Bebe Stores, Inc. (2000)/Tham v. Bebe Stores, Inc. (2001)
Advancing Justice - LA brought wage and hour claims on behalf of Chinese garment workers who worked exclusively for the private retailer Bebe while employed at a factory known as Apex Clothing Corporation. The workers were denied their lawful wages, including because defendants doctored their piece rate records. When the workers complained, they were fired and even blacklisted. The workers settled with Bebe on the eve of trial and won a default judgment against Apex for $1.4 million. Bebe also agreed to create and post a toll-free hotline for worker complaints. Bird, Marella, Boxer & Wolpert served as co-counsel.
Castro v. Forever 21, Inc. (2001)
Advancing Justice - LA brought wage and hour claims in federal court on behalf of 33 Latino garment workers against Forever 21, a national clothing retail chain. The 33 workers worked in more than a dozen different sweatshops that sewed Forever 21 clothing. After a victory at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversing the lower court’s dismissal, Advancing Justice - LA re-filed the case in state court. Three years after Advancing Justice - LA filed suit, defendants agreed to a global settlement that included a commitment by Forever 21 to promote greater worker protection in the local garment industry. Bird, Marella, Boxer & Wolpert served as co-counsel.
Desh Management v. Begum (2010)
Advancing Justice - LA brought claims on behalf of Sakina Begum, a limited-English-proficient, low-wage Bengali cook against her former employer, Little Dhaka Restaurant in Artesia, for sexual harassment and wage and hour violations. Ms. Begum was subject to lewd sexual harassment from the restaurant’s head chef. Despite her repeated complaints, the restaurant ignored the harassment. After Ms. Begum sought help from the community group the South Asian Network (SAN) to understand her rights and legal options, the restaurant owners sued Ms. Begum and SAN claiming defamation, extortion, and malicious prosecution. Advancing Justice - LA defended Ms. Begum and SAN in that lawsuit by filing an anti-SLAPP motion, which resulted in dismissal of all claims against SAN. Advancing Justice - LA and pro bono co-counsel Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, P.C. then brought affirmative claims against the restaurant and its head chef for sexual harassment and wage and hour violations.
In 2013, Desh agreed to settle the dispute, pay substantial damages to Ms. Begum and her husband, and apologize for the mistreatment they suffered.
Talavera v. QTS (2013)
Advancing Justice - LA, together with the Wage Justice Center, is litigating a class action wage and hour lawsuit on behalf of a multi-racial group of primarily Latino and Korean port truck drivers who have been misclassified as independent contractors, and are thereby being denied basic workplace protections including minimum wage, meal and rest breaks, and reimbursement for business expenses. The case is part of a larger worker-led movement to change port industry practices to ensure vulnerable workers are not subject to exploitative working conditions.