WEST COVINA, CA – Investigations conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division often reveal violations caused by a misunderstanding of federal law as well as blatant efforts to intentionally shortchange workers and cheat competitors. Yet, investigators in the West Covina district office found the actions of a group of La Puente poultry processing employers, whose cut chicken has been distributed throughout Los Angeles County and beyond, surprisingly egregious.
The department filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against employers Lily “Mei” Tseng, Aiwa Tang-Ton, Kevin Truong, Jimmy Huynh, and their companies KP Poultry, TL Foods and Express Poultry Services after the division’s investigation revealed that these poultry processing employers failed to pay proper overtime to employees who worked up to 70 hours per week. The department’s lawsuit alleges that the named parties violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay proper wages to employees they hired to cut, debone and pack chicken. The lawsuit also alleges that these employers retaliated against workers who attempted to enforce their rights under the law.
In July 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California approved a consent judgment in which KP Poultry and Truong admitted to FLSA violations and agreed to pay $200,000 in back wages and liquidated damages to 103 employees denied overtime pay. Additionally, the court forbid KP Poultry and Truong from future FLSA violations, including retaliating against the employees.
In early October, the court also determined that Tseng and Huynh are personally liable for FLSA violations their companies committed, including overtime violations. The department’s litigation against the remaining defendants is still ongoing.
In addition to facing physically demanding and dangerous work, the cutter and packer employees were coerced into accepting low wages by employers who told them to forge their timesheets to hide overtime hours, demanded they pay for knives, gloves, aprons, hair nets and boots they needed to work, and who threatened them for cooperating with a federal investigation.
“Work in a poultry processing plant requires long hours and strenuous labor. The rapid pace demands intense focus to avoid serious injury,” said Wage and Hour Division Assistant District Director Rafael Valles in West Covina, California. “The essential workers who perform this work are putting food on the table of families across this country and they deserve respect and fair pay. The court’s actions send a strong message the Wage and Hour Division will not tolerate abusive labor practices and wage theft.”
In the last decade, the Wage and Hour Division has conducted more than 153 poultry industry investigations and recovered almost $2 million in back wages for more than 3,900 employees.
Workers can call the Wage and Hour Division confidentially with questions – regardless of their immigration status – and the department can speak with callers in more than 200 languages.
For more information about the FLSA and other laws enforced by the division, contact its toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.