Projects, Units & Initiatives
The Employment Law Unit (ELU) provides assistance to clients—typically low-wage and unemployed workers—facing a range of employment law-related issues. The majority of ELU’s cases involve wage violations, workplace discrimination, family and medical leave, labor trafficking and unemployment insurance. Undocumented workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers, and the ELU works in close collaboration with our Immigration Law Unit to provide support with applications for U or T visas.
The Legal Aid Society Employment Law Unit (ELU) has been advising and advocating for low-wage New Yorkers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A myriad of new employment laws have been implemented during the pandemic, and ELU has provided numerous trainings to elected officials and their staffs, workers’ centers, synagogues, schools, and other community groups to educate them on workers’ rights. ELU assists unemployed workers access unemployment insurance benefits and represents workers at hearings when they are wrongfully denied benefits. ELU assists workers who are victims of wage theft when they are not paid the proper minimum wage or overtime. In addition, ELU represents workers who are unlawfully discriminated against in the workplace, including when a worker needs accomodations for COVID-19 related conditions.
Fighting Wage Theft
The ELU, along with pro bono counsel Shearman & Sterling LLP, represented more than 60 current and former pizza delivery workers in federal district court against DPNY, which owned four Domino’s Pizza stores in Manhattan, and the corporate franchisor, Domino’s. We first met with the plaintiffs through an organization we work closely with, National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS), a workers’ organization in NYC. The claim involved systemic wage theft violations – unpaid minimum wage and overtime, violations of the tip credit rules, and retaliation against workers who complained about these practices.
Based on the plaintiffs’ allegations of corporate Domino’s involvement in training store owners, collecting and maintaining payroll data, and establishing policies and procedures, the court allowed the plaintiffs to include corporate Domino’s as a defendant – which is not common, but critical in this case as the defendant franchisee declared bankruptcy.
The ELU and Shearman & Sterling also represented the class in bankruptcy court. A settlement in the case was approved by the bankruptcy court and included $1.282 million to be paid by defendants, with almost $1.2 million of that amount going to the workers. Under the settlement, the franchise also agreed to pay the full minimum wage to its delivery workers instead of the reduced “tipped” wage
Expanding Our Resources
The ELU partners with community based organizations, workers centers, and social services organizations to identify and assist clients throughout New York City with employment law issues.
The ELU also partners with law firms who become pro bono co-counsel on our litigation. The ELU also works with retired attorney volunteers and law students to greater expand our capacity to represent low-wage workers.
Richard Blum, a staff attorney in our Employment Law Unit, along with former members of the unit, students at CUNY Law School’s Main Street Legal Services, and attorneys at Arnold & Porter LLP collaborated with Adhikaar, the Nepali worker center, to work with 23 clients trying to claim unpaid wages from their former employer, an owner of a chain of gas stations across Long Island.
For years, many of these employees were not paid the minimum wage, were denied overtime pay, and saw illegal deductions from their weekly wages. Some employees, who often worked over 80 hours each week, never received any payment for their work.
Thankfully, after years of work, we won an incredible settlement of $285,000 for our clients in bankruptcy court. Richard and his clients celebrated their victory when he distributed checks to a group of workers who for too long were taken advantage of by their employer.
Last Updated: 24 January 2023
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