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Former salon worker hails $250G verdict

Yan Zhang of Flushing, one of the Chinese

Yan Zhang of Flushing, one of the Chinese workers formerly of Babi Nail salon in Carle Place. (April 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A former worker at a Carle Place nail salon Tuesday hailed a $250,000 verdict she and her co-workers won in a federal wage discrimination case and said workers who have similar grievances should not be afraid to organize and go to court.

"I'm very happy. American law is just," said Yan Zhang, of Flushing, after a news conference at St. George's Episcopal Church in Flushing.

The news conference, to publicize the recent verdict in federal court in Central Islip, was called by the Legal Aid Society and a coalition of groups attempting to organize workers in the nail salon and restaurant businesses who they say are discriminated against in both wages and workplace treatment.

Zhang, who gave her age as "over 40," and five co-workers at the Babi nail salon in Carle Place had sued the nail salon and its owners over failure to pay minimum wage or overtime, and for potential wages lost when they were fired after filing their lawsuit.

Zhang was awarded $70,000; she and her five co-workers were awarded the total of $250,000.

Aaron Halegua, of the Legal Aid Society, who was the lead attorney for the workers, said that they could be awarded more money, because U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler in the case still has to decide whether the six are entitled to compensatory damages.

But a lawyer for the nail salon's former owners, Saul Zabell, of Bohemia, said "It's a hollow victory."

Zabell, who said his clients recently sold the salon, said that the workers had asked for millions of dollars, and had also accused the salon of discriminating against them because they were Chinese and the owners were Korean.

The jury found no discrimination, Zabell said.

Zabell also said about $100,000 of the total award was based on wages that the workers would have received had they not been let go. But he is contending that federal law does not permit undocumented workers to receive money for work they do not perform.

So Zabell said he has asked Wexler to allow him to determine if any of the six are in the country illegally.

Halegua disagreed with Zabell's interpretation of the law and said that the status of the workers was irrelevant.

The coalition of groups that is attempting to organize workers in the nail salon and restaurant industries includes: The Justice Will Be Served! Campaign; the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, and the Restaurant Workers Union.


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