Thai restaurant chain accused of discriminating against Thai workers

The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries has issued formal charges of civil rights violations against the Thai restaurant chain Typhoon!, Inc., alleging that it unlawfully discriminated against workers from Thailand by paying them less than their American counterparts.

The state agency charged with enforcing civil rights law intends to seek at least $250,000 for each Thai employee subjected to unlawful employment practices by the company. Its Civil Rights Division announced in May that investigators had found substantial evidence that Typhoon used its leverage over workers recruited from Thailand to impose lower pay, longer working hours and unfavorable contract terms that were not faced by non-Thai employees.

The division has so far identified 11 employees it says were discriminated against and expects to contact others.

'Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental right in our workplaces,' said State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. 'The evidence shows that Typhoon paid one class of workers less than another because of their national origin. BOLI will always take action to stop that kind of injustice.'

Typhoon business manager James Thomas said the company could not comment directly on the charges because of their legal nature. But he suggested the company did nothing wrong.

'There's nothing here,' said Thomas.

The case will be prosecuted before an administrative law judge on May 15, 2012. Any final order in the case will be issued by BOLI Deputy Commissioner Doug McKean.

Avakian initiated the investigation after several Thai workers personally contacted him in 2010. They claimed to have left their homes and families in Thailand based on Typhoon's promises of a good job and fair wages. Instead, they said they found themselves trapped in unreasonable contracts, receiving lower wages and working longer hours than their American counterparts, who enjoyed better working conditions.

After hearing their personal stories, Avakian invoked his statutory authority to file a commissioner's complaint. It functions like any civil rights complaint filed with BOLI, but offers greater protection against retaliation because individual workers need not file in their own name.

BOLI's charges seek non-economic damages of at least $250,000 for each E-2 visa employee discriminated against by Typhoon based on national origin. In addition, BOLI has identified at least 11 Thai workers, employed under the E-2 visa program, who were unlawfully paid less than U.S. citizens for work as cooks in Typhoon's Beaverton, Southwest Broadway, Northwest Everett and Gresham locations.

The charges seek wages to compensate those workers and any others similarly situated and also seek an order bringing their pay in line with their non-Thai co-workers.

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