United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Defendant Feast Buffet
Inc.'s partial Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. #39.
Plaintiffs Mingfeng Cai, Jinglin Chen, Yue Li, Maohong Lin,
Xiangnan Liu, Zhengri Song, Yujie Wang, Pengbo Xiao, Lihong
Xu, and Xu Zhao (collectively “Plaintiffs”)
oppose. Dkt. #44. Defendant Feast Buffet has requested oral
argument, but the Court does not feel that oral argument is
necessary. Having reviewed the motion, Plaintiffs'
response, Defendant's reply, and all documents submitted
in support thereof, the Court GRANTS IN PART Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment.
Feast Buffet, Inc. (“Feast Buffet”) is a Chinese
restaurant located in Renton, Washington. The
restaurant's management completes its own bookkeeping and
hires Chinese-speaking waitstaff that can communicate with
Feast Buffet's owners and managers, who primarily speak
Chinese. Dkt. #44-1, Ex. B, Li Dep. 12:4-25. To find
Chinese-speaking waitstaff to hire, Feast Buffet's owners
relied on employment agencies to seek out potential employees
outside the Renton, Washington area. Dkt. #41, Li Decl.
¶3. Feast Buffet hired Plaintiffs, most of whom
relocated to Washington from states such as California or
Texas. See, e.g., Dkt. #40-1, Ex. A, Cai Dep.
21:20-23; Ex. B, Chen Dep. 15:19-20; Ex. D, Liu Dep.
30:18-25; Ex. E, Song Dep. 35:10.
Buffet offered Plaintiffs at least $3, 500 per month in wages
and tips, plus free meals and free lodging. Dkt. #41, Li
Decl., ¶4. During the interview process, Feast Buffet
agreed to compensate at least two plaintiffs for travel costs
to relocate to Renton. Id., ¶9. Feast Buffet
did not pay its waitstaff hourly wages or overtime
compensation-Plaintiffs' income came exclusively from
tips. See, e.g., Dkt. #40, Ex. B, Chen Dep. 26:8-12,
37:1-38:16; Ex. D, Liu Dep. 55:5-13. To receive their
bi-weekly paychecks, employees were required by Feast Buffet
to bring the cash they earned from tips to the front counter
and exchange the cash for a paycheck. See id.
addition to completing its own bookkeeping, Feast Buffet
relied minimally on written contracts, rules or guidelines to
outline the employer-employee relationship. Dkt. #44-1, Ex.
J, Def. Interrog. No. 10 at 49. Feast Buffet manager Xiaoling
Jiang described his past practice of trashing employees'
timecards that recorded the number of hours that waitstaff
worked. Dkt. #44-1, Ex. B, Jiang Dep. 44:15-45:17, 57:12-22.
To the extent that Plaintiffs signed any paperwork,
Plaintiffs claim they were not sure what they signed, nor the
purpose of their signatures. Dkt. #40-1, Ex. D, Liu Dep.
31:17-23; Ex. G, Xu Dep. 46:6-10.
Buffet claims that the restaurant's management genuinely
believed that it fully and fairly compensated Plaintiffs and
did not willfully violate FLSA wage requirements. Dkt. #41,
Li Decl., ¶ 5, 6. Dequn Li, one of Feast Buffet's
owners and managers, states that Plaintiffs “seemed
satisfied with their substantial compensation, ” noting
that none complained about pay, minimum wages, overtime pay
or any pay practice. Id. Likewise, he claims that
management never received any complaints, warnings or notices
during Plaintiffs' employment that Feast Buffet was not
complying with FLSA wage requirements. Id.
describe the restaurant's management as enforcing a
zero-tolerance policy against complaining about wages,
overtime, or rest breaks, wherein waitstaff knew that
breaking their silence would result in immediate firing.
See, e.g., Dkt. #44-1, Ex. C, Cai Dep. 82:9-23.
Plaintiff Zhengri Song claimed that the number of waiters
fired for complaining numbered in the teens, and that
waitstaff had no way to make a complaint anonymously.
Id., Ex. G, Song Dep. 50:15-25.
Plaintiffs state that they remained silent on wage issues out
of fear of Feast Buffet firing them. See, e.g., Dkt.
#44-2, Chen Decl. ¶5; Dkt. #44-4, Li Decl. ¶5.
However, plaintiff Pengbo Xiao claims that (s)he complained
once about overtime work and once about time off.
Id. at Ex. H, Xiao Dep. 41:23-25, 42:1-21.
Similarly, Mingfeng Cai complained about working too late
into the night. Id. at Ex. A, Cai Dep. 15:12-25,
16:1-13. Plaintiffs also allege an incident in which a
Chinese-speaking customer asked a waiter if Feast Buffet paid
them hourly wages or overtime. When the waiter replied that
Feast Buffet only paid them tips, the customer left a tip of
twenty-five dollars. Dkt. #40-1, Ex. E, Song Dep. 41:13-25.
Plaintiffs claim that Feast Buffet's management brought
up this incident in a meeting that night and fired the waiter
involved. Id. See also Dkt. #44-5, Cai Decl.
¶10; Dkt. #44-3, Xu Decl. ¶5. In addition to fear
of losing their jobs at Feast Buffet, Plaintiffs also claim
that because managers at Feast Buffet knew other restaurant
managers in the Renton, Washington area, they worried that
complaining to Feast Buffet management would hurt them if
they later tried to find work at another Renton restaurant.
Dkt. #44, Ex. I, Zhao Dep. 29:5-8.
judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Material facts are those which
might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In ruling on summary
judgment, a court does not weigh evidence to determine the
truth of the matter, but “only determine[s] whether
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Crane v.
Conoco, Inc., 41 F.3d 547, 549 (9th Cir. 1994) (citing
Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. O'Melveny &
Meyers, 969 F.2d 744, 747 (9th Cir. 1992)).
motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence and
draws inferences in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255;
Sullivan v. U.S. Dep't of the Navy, 365 F.3d
827, 832 (9th Cir. 2004). The Court must draw all reasonable
inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See
O'Melveny & Meyers, 969 F.2d at 747,
rev'd on other grounds, 512 U.S. 79 (1994).
However, the nonmoving party must make a “sufficient
showing on an essential element of her case with respect to
which she has the burden of proof” to survive summary
judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,