Judge finds that Epicurean worker has right to seek compensation in civil case
The long-standing criminal case against Epicurean owner Chang Wook Chon reached a conclusion on April 29 during a hearing in which District Judge Robert L. Wilkins
of the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided that plaintiff Marvin Hercules should have the opportunity to prove that he is entitled to the money owed to him from a separate civil case filed against Chon on May 2011.
Even though the group of over 20 workers who had also filed lawsuits in the civil case against Chon received their due money, the payment owed in unpaid overtime wages to Hercules was interrupted by a criminal case in which Chon persuaded the involved plaintiff not to go to court, and to which Chon pleaded guilty in March.
During the hearing held this April, Judge Wilkins found that “there’s clear and convincing evidence of misconduct by defendant Chon. And the Court finds that that misconduct prevented Mr. Hercules from fully and fairly presenting his case.”
The judge’s decision to grant Hercules an opportunity to re-file the original civil case in order to get his due payment came in response to a claim made by Chon and his attorney Barry Coburn. They said Hercules should not have the right to refile his original civil case after the conclusion of the criminal case, but Wilkins denied the request.
As Judge Wilkins said during the hearing, “The defendants’ argument that it’s not appropriate [for Hercules to refile his complaint] because Mr. Hercules was aware of the hearing, chose not to participate, and was given the day off to participate completely … ignores the last part of Mr. Hercules’s testimony with respect to why he did not come to the hearing, which is that he was essentially told that if you come to the hearing you would lose your job.”
Coburn refused to make any comment regarding the case.
Although the settlement of this case is a victory for Epicurean workers, Chon’s alleged wage-paying practices in the past years are in violation of the University’s Just Employment Policy, according to which “Georgetown University, as a Catholic and Jesuit institution, is committed to providing fair and competitive compensation packages for University employees and full-time contract workers who provide services on its campuses in Washington, D.C.”
Despite of several attempts to get in contact with the University administration and the Advisory Committee on Business Practices, Vox still hasn’t received any response regarding the implications of these cases on the University’s practices and its contract with Epicurean and Co.
The existence of a contractor that has such business practices on campus has drawn criticism from within the University itself. Nick Wertsch, Program Coordinator of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown, says he is frustrated at the fact that a business such as Epicurean has such unjust practices, especially in a community where so much emphasis has been put in just employment.
“It’s a very blatant case of wage theft and workplace discrimination, and a lot of behavior that’s not very in keeping with Georgetown’s ideals,” Wertsch said. “It’s extremely disappointing to hear that there’s a business on our campus that operates like this.”
This story is in development—Vox will keep you posted.
Photo: Christina Ling/Georgetown Voice