SAN DIEGO–A local Thai restaurant owner Monday was convicted of grand theft and labor violations and sentenced to two years in jail in a landmark wage theft case, according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.
The owner of the now shuttered restaurant was also ordered to repay $20,000 in stolen wages and tips to six restaurant workers.
Zihan Zhang, 38, owner of Antique Thai Cuisine in San Diego, targeted who were promised wages but then often paid only in tips. Some of the kitchen staff was either unpaid, or paid just a few dollars an hour and forced to work during breaks and meal periods. The owner further collected a portion of the tips from the unpaid workers, and charged them $5 per shift for “glass breakage” to offset her operating costs.
“With the Labor Commissioner’s assistance, we delivered justice for workers who were repeatedly abused by a dishonest employer,” said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. “Prosecuting these types of cases helps ensure a level playing field for honest employers to fairly compete in the marketplace.”
The Labor Commissioner’s Office referred the case to prosecutors in August 2014, and worked with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office to bring the case to trial. It is the first criminal jury trial conviction in California for felony grand wage theft by false pretenses.
Zhang was convicted in May of two felony counts of grand theft of labor for failing to pay workers as promised, one felony count of grand theft of tips and six misdemeanor charges, including two for refusing to pay wages when she had the ability to do so and four counts for failing to provide itemized wage statements. She was sentenced on December 2 to two years in jail.
“Our investigation uncovered egregious wage theft and worker abuse – our collaboration with the San Diego District Attorney has resulted in the first criminal conviction of its kind in our state,” said Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su. “California will continue to hold the line in ensuring that workers’ rights are protected.”
The trial included testimony from one worker who worked 12 days in a row, including double shifts, and was not paid her hourly wage. Video footage showed the worker asking Zhang about payments she was owed when Zhang fired her. Zhang also charged another server for customers’ meals when they left before the food was served.
The wage theft came to light in 2014 after some of the workers filed wage claims with the Labor Commissioner’s Office. The Labor Commissioner’s Office cited Antique Thai $36,617 in July of 2014, including assessments of $14,567 for rest and meal period premiums, wages, overtime and liquidated damages, and civil penalties of $22,050 for failure to provide itemized wage statements as well as overtime, minimum wage, rest and meal period requirements.