A Virginia Buffet Stole Over $225,000 From Its Employees

In Depth

Luckily, the restaurant is now being forced to pay back the money after the Department of Labor caught wind of their shenanigans.

A Department of Labor investigation recently revealed that Win Buffet in Alexandria, Virginia and its owner, Jin Cai Shi, were responsible for a truly staggering level of wage theft from the restaurant’s kitchen employees. The violations here are surprising even for those familiar with the industry’s tendency towards wage theft and worker abuses. In addition to paying kitchen workers less than the minimum wage and not paying them for overtime over a period of almost two years (July 2, 2011 to April 1, 2013),* Win Buffet also pulled the following, via the Department of Labor’s news release:

Baltimore District Office investigators found that the company paid kitchen workers a fixed monthly salary in cash, regardless of the number of hours worked on a weekly basis. At times, they were required to work additional hours without receiving additional compensation. These employees worked six days a week for up to 72 hours.

This isn’t the first time I’ve run a wage theft story, but that level of fuckery is new to me. You see underpayment shenanigans almost constantly within the industry, but it’s as rare as it is distressing that a restaurant would be so brazen as to just not pay employees at all for time worked and pretend they shouldn’t have any reason to complain about it. All told, a consent judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has ordered the restaurant to pay $227,048 in back wages to 13 kitchen employees.** Additionally, the court order enjoins Win Buffet from future Fair Labor Standards Act violations—meaning if the restaurant screws up again, the court can hold Shi in contempt.

Because the Department of Labor isn’t at liberty to disclose the reason for an investigation, we don’t know specifically how they caught onto Win Buffet’s theft. The most likely possibility is a complaint (all of which are obviously confidential), but a Department of Labor representative tells Kitchenette the DoL also selects businesses in what they consider at-risk sectors (such as low-wage industries or specific localities that have previously seen a lot of violations) for random investigations. If you think there’s no possible way these sorts of abuses could be widespread enough that a random investigation would turn up something like this, hi and welcome to Kitchenette, first-time reader!

Shi and Win Buffet are also probably getting off light here, as the restaurant apparently did not keep accurate time and payroll records (well, there’s a shocker). It’s entirely possible (I would even venture to say likely) that the employees of Win Buffet are owed even more than this. While it’s certainly good to see that the Department of Labor knows this is an issue and is working to help mistreated employees regain wages stolen from them (hurrah!), the industry as a whole won’t get better until restaurateurs who pull this crap are actively prosecuted for a first offense, rather than just told “hey, if you do that again, you’ll be in REAL trouble.”

* Because of course they were guilty of these; both are almost par for the course within the industry.

** Court records for this case can be found within the PACER database.

Image via Sandratsky Dmitry/Shutterstock.

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