A four-year-old case of alleged wage theft and worker mistreatment at the Burma Superstar restaurant chain has come to an end, with the owners of the chain settling with current and former kitchen workers for $1.3 million.
The lawsuit was first filed in September 2016 by three former employees on behalf of 100 others who were "similarly situated," claiming that co-owner Desmond Tan had violated state laws governing hourly employees, overtime, and the sharing of tips with back-of-house workers. Former dishwasher William Navarette told the East Bay Express at the time that Tan withheld certain paychecks as "deposits" to be paid after workers left the job, and classified kitchen workers as salaried staff in order to avoid paying overtime.
Ultimately, 353 current and former staffers at the restaurants — which include Burma Love, B Star, Burma Bites, and Burma Superstar locations in San Francisco, Oakland, and Alameda — joined the class, and as the Chronicle reports, the owners just decided to settle the case.
In a statement, Tan remained adamant that there had been no wrongdoing. "While we strongly disagreed with the allegations in the class-action lawsuit, we settled the lawsuit in order to move on," he said. "We are glad that this matter has come to an end, and now we can continue to focus on doing what we love: providing the Bay Area with delicious Burmese cuisine, while taking care of the people that are with us today.”
Tan added, “These are challenging times for all restaurants, but we know that we will get through it with the support of our community and our dedicated employees, who have been a huge part of our success.”
As part of the settlement, the owners have agreed to provide employee manuals in several languages, restore tip sharing with kitchen workers, provide holidays and paid time off, and provide workers’ rights training during paid time to staff and management.
Carole Vigne, director of the Wage Protection Program at Legal Aid at Work, announced the settlement, and said in a statement, "We hope better jobs await restaurant workers as they return to work."
Attorney Palyn Hung Mitchell of the Asian Law Caucus says in a separate statement, per SF Weekly, "Even after a case is settled, there’s still a lot of fear." She says the workers in the case "were just so brave," and that many of them are Burmese immigrants who were initially afraid of speaking out against authority figures due to the trauma they witnessed in their home country of Myanmar a.k.a. Burma.
The case was filed at a time when at least two other Asian restaurants in San Francisco had recently been found guilty of wage theft, Yank Sing and Udupi Palace. In 2014, the owners of Yank Sing agreed to pay $4 million in back pay and benefits to its largely immigrant employees in a similar class action suit.