(CN) – The 2nd Circuit upheld a jury’s ruling that a clothing maker in New York City’s Chinatown forced 25 workers to work more than 85 hours a week for less than minimum wage — and sometimes for no pay at all.
Liberty Apparel Co. delivered partially finished clothes to a factory owned by Lai Huen Yam, whose workers would sew the fabrics together and add buttons, labels, cuffs and hems.
Yam’s employees said they spent 70 to 80 percent of their time on Liberty garments, though they worked for other subcontractors. Liberty paid Yam by the piece, not the hour, and Yam paid his workers in the same way.
“On average, each plaintiff worked more than 85 hours per week,” the ruling states. “When they were paid for their work – which was not always – they were paid at a rate below the federal and state minimums, and they were never paid overtime.”
The workers sued and were awarded more than $550,000 in damages after a 2.5-week trial.
On appeal, Liberty argued that the trial court improperly let the jury decide the “ultimate legal question” of whether Liberty was considered a “joint employer.”
But that determination “is a mixed one of law and fact,” according to the federal appeals court in Manhattan.
“The district court properly submitted the joint employer issue to the jury,” the court wrote, upholding the jury’s verdict.