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Panel clears Typhoon! of human trafficking crimes and sets fine

Company will have to pay former chef $268,000 for discrimination

Typhoon! restaurants did not commit human trafficking crimes, a panel in Portland ruled last week, but the company will have to pay more than $268,000 to a former chef who it discriminated against because she was from Thailand.

Awarded by a three-person federal arbitration panel, the award puts an end to an almost 3-year-old lawsuit by a former employee who alleged that the Tigard-based company committed a range of crimes, including human trafficking, sexual harassment, retaliation, aiding and abetting and inflicting emotional distress.

The panel ruled against those charges, but said that Typhoon! did discriminate based on the chef's Thai origin and would have to pay her workers compensation claim and unpaid overtime.

The total of the ruling awards the chef, Sarinya Reabroy of Eugene, a total of $268,150.74.

Co-owner Steve Kline said in a statement Friday that while the awards were 'unreasonably high,' he was 'pleased to see the human trafficking allegation resolved.'

'This outrageous human trafficking claim has been kicking our company around for a long time,' Kline said in the statement. 'We survived the worst of the recession, but it's been a lot harder trying to survive these false accusations.'

In a statement written by panel chairman Robert Shlachter, the chef was not persuaded to leave Thailand under false pretenses.

'(The chef) chose twice, without coercions, to renew her employment contract with Typhoon!,' Shlachter wrote in his opinion, 'and had the opportunity at each renewal to return at Typhoon!'s expense to Thailand, where her family owned a small restaurant.'

The chef's claim that she was threatened with deportation if she didn't perform well at her job was not proof of human trafficking either, Shlachter wrote, but may have been evidence of 'overbearing management.'

Kline said business suffered because of the claims, which he said 'demonized Typhoon! as participants in modern slavery and indentured servitude.'

Last week, Kline said the company had lost about 20 percent of its business and was forced to close its West Linn location - one of six restaurants in Oregon, including one at The Round in Beaverton Central.

The panel's ruling isn't the end to the company's troubles, however.

The state's Bureau of Labor and Industries reported in May that Typhoon! could face discrimination charges after an investigation concluded that the restaurant chain allegedly violated the civil rights of some Thai employees.

In a complaint by state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, Typhoon! workers recruited from Thailand were not properly paid, were denied raises, provided less vacation time and were required to work longer hours than non-Thai employees.

Workers who opposed the practices were threatened with termination, Avakian said, and were told they would be forced to return to Thailand and warned that legal action could be taken against them.

Kline has called the BOLI case against Typhoon! a 'witch hunt' and said that Avakian - who is challenging David Wu for his 1st Congressional District seat - was using the case for political gain.

'The economy, we can deal with,' Kline said in a statement last week. 'But anyone can make any wild accusation they want and, in our legal system, it takes a long time to defend yourself.'

The company is expected to fight claims for damages on behalf of those workers.