United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR
PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge.
an action seeking payment of back wages. From 2006 to 2013,
plaintiffs worked as cooks and food preparers at Chinese
fast-food restaurants called “China Wok.”
Defendants MW South Station, Inc., and Auburn Foods Inc., are
the corporate owners of two China Wok restaurant locations in
Boston and Auburn, Massachusetts. Defendant Donald C. Wong is
the president of those corporations. Plaintiffs contend that
their manager systematically altered their timecards to
reflect fewer hours than they had actually worked, resulting
in an underpayment of their wages. The complaint alleges
claims under federal law for violation of the Fair Labor
Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq.,
as well as under the Massachusetts Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws
ch. 149, §§ 148 and 150, and Massachusetts law
requiring the payment of minimum wages, Mass. Gen. Laws ch.
151, §§ 1 and 20.
have moved for partial summary judgment concerning the
minimum-wage claims and certain claims that they contend are
untimely. For the following reasons, defendants' motion
will be granted in part and denied in part.
following facts are taken in the light most favorable to
South Station, Inc., and Auburn Foods, Inc. are corporate
subsidiaries of the same parent corporation, Master Group,
Incorporated. (Jonathan Wong Dep. at 4). Both operate Chinese
fast-food restaurants called “Master Wok” at
different locations. (Def. SMF ¶¶ 1-2). MW South
Station operates a restaurant located at 100 Summer Street in
Boston, Massachusetts (“Boston Master Wok”).
(Id. ¶ 1). Auburn Foods operates a restaurant
located at 385 Southbridge Street in Auburn, Massachusetts
(“Auburn Master Wok”). (Id. ¶ 2).
Donald C. Wong is the president of both corporations.
(Id. ¶ 4).
Li, Qin Shi Ruan, and Su Qin Li were formerly employed as
cooks and food preparers at Boston Master Wok. (Id.
¶¶ 5-7). Wanshen Li and Su Qin Li also worked at
Auburn Master Wok. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 7). All
three are Chinese immigrants and do not speak English. (Su
Qin Li Aff. ¶ 1; Ruan Aff. ¶ 1; Wanshen Li Dep.
policy at Master Wok required employees to punch a timecard
at the beginning and end of each workday to record the hours
worked. (Wanshen Li Dep. 47; Han Dep. 33). At the end of
each two-week pay period, employees signed their timecards
and store managers sent them to a Master Wok central office
in New Jersey for processing. (Ling Dep. 39; Jonathan Wong
Dep. 22). If a timecard was sent to the central office
without a signature, the office would return it to the
restaurant location to be signed, which could result in a
delay in payment. (Jonathan Wong Dep. 22; Ling Aff. 38).
Chun Ling was the manager at the Boston Master Wok from 2005
to the fall of 2013. (Ling Dep. 36; Su Qin Li Aff. ¶ 2).
While she was manager, Ling consistently altered employee
timecards, including those of plaintiffs. She testified that
when she began managing the Boston China Wok, her manager
informed her that it was one of her responsibilities to
re-punch timecards for her employees. (Ling Dep. 36). Acting
on that direction, she re-punched employee timecards
periodically throughout the pay period, purportedly in order
to make them appear more orderly. (Id. 22, 36-38).
She had employees sign the cards she had re-punched before
sending them to the central office for processing.
(Id. 36-38). Ling explained that her reason for
re-punching cards was that employees sometimes recorded their
time in a sloppy manner, and that the central office would
reject disorderly timecards, just as they would reject
unsigned timecards. (Id.).
Claims of Wanshen Li
Li worked as a cook at the Boston China Wok and Auburn China
Wok, among other locations, from April 1, 2006, to August 4,
2013. (Def. SMF ¶ 5; Jonathan Wong Dep.
He testified that he did not receive overtime payments while
employed at China Wok, and instead the company provided him
with a place to live, which a manager explained was
“for [his] overtime.” (Wanshen Li Dep. 44). The
regional manager for the Boston region, Mei Juan Han,
testified that she personally provided housing to some Master
Wok employees, including Wanshen Li, in order to help retain
employees, but that it was not a part of Master Wok policy to
do so. (Han Dep. 42-43, 58-59, 70).
Wanshen Li was working at the Boston China Wok location, he
punched a timecard at the beginning and end of each day.
(Wanshen Li Dep. 47- 48). He testified that for as long as he
worked there, he saw Ling tear up the timecards employees had
punched, and punch new cards on their behalf. (Id.).
He signed timecards Ling had punched for him, although he
knew they were “fake, ” because if he did not
sign he “wouldn't get paid.” (Id.
48-50). When asked why he did not complain that Ling was
replacing his timecards, he responded, “Because she was
the manager.” (Id. 48).
Li contends that he now knows that Song had been re-punching
his timecard not only to make it appear neater, but also to
subtract time for meal breaks that he had not actually taken.
(Id. 47). At some point, although it is not clear
when, servers who worked in the front of the store and had a
better grasp of English informed him that time was being
subtracted from his wages. (Id. 29). When he found
out that China Wok had been subtracting time from his pay, he
testified that he did not complain to anyone because
“[l]ife back then was still very hard, so [he] just
charged on, and . . . continued to work.” (Id.
30). He contends that although he worked eleven-hour shifts
throughout his employment, China Wok only paid him for nine
hours each day. (Id. 29).
Claims of Qing Shi Ruan
Shi Ruan worked as a cook at Boston China Wok from December
1, 2006, through October 31, 2013. (Def. SMF ¶ 6). It
was the first job he held after immigrating to the United
States. (Ruan Aff. ¶ 12). He testified that he saw Ling
re-punch timecards prior to submitting them to the central
office. (Ruan Dep. 36). He also testified that he never
punched out during lunch hours because he was not allowed to
leave for lunch. (Id. 52). He stated that he, and
all of the other employees, were aware that Ling re-punched
timecards, “but at the time nobody dare[d] speak
up.” (Id.). He explained that “in China
where I came from, you simply do not question your
manager.” (Ruan Aff. ¶ 9). He also stated that he
did not know about minimum wage and overtime laws, because
such laws do not exist in China. (Id. ¶ 10).
contends that he was not paid for two hours of work each day
because Ling re-punched his timecard to reflect meal breaks
that he had not taken. (Id. ¶ 7). Similarly to
Wanshen Li, he contends that he first discovered the
underpayment sometime in June or July of 2013, when servers
informed him that Master Wok was not paying him for work it
counted as breaktime. (Id. ¶ 2).
Claims of Su Qin Li
Li worked at Boston China Wok and Auburn China Wok from May
8, 2006, to August 2015. (Def. Ex. 2 ¶ 2). Her duties
included preparatory work, such as cutting meats and
vegetables, as well as cleaning the kitchen and front areas.
(Id. ¶ 8A).
Wanshen Li and Ruan, Su Qin Li testified that she saw Ling
changing her timecard “consistently.” (Su Qin Li
Dep. 30-31). She contends that she typically worked 11-hour
shifts, for a total of 65 hours of work each week, but that
she was not compensated for five-and-a-half hours of work
that was deducted for meal breaks. (Id. 31-32). She
first learned that China Wok was deducting hours from her pay
in September 2013, when she overheard one Master Wok server
telling another that “Master Wok is shortchanging its
employees.” (Su Qin Li Aff. ¶ 3). She testified
that she had never punched out for a break, lunch, or any
reason other than leaving at the end of the day.
(Id. 30). She testified that she never complained to
Ling about the lack of breaks because she “thought it
was the right thing.” (Id. 38). She stated,
“I thought that was how it was in the back; that when
she asked us to go to work, that we'd go to work.”
Labor-Law Sign Postings
regulations require that employers such as Boston China Wok
and Auburn China Wok post signs alerting employees to their
rights under the labor laws. (See 29 C.F.R. §
516.4). Han, the regional manager, testified unequivocally
that such signs were posted at the Boston and Auburn
locations. (Han Dep. 60). She stated that the signs were
initially posted only in English, but that Chinese signs were
later posted at some locations. (Id. 61-62). The
Vice President and Director of Operations for Master Group
testified that he did not remember seeing labor-law signs
posted in restaurants, but qualified that statement by saying
that he “wasn't looking for [them].”
(Jonathan Wong Dep. 66). Ruan stated that he could not recall
seeing labor-law signs posted at Boston China Wok; however,
he further explained that even if ...