The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries announced Tuesday it has issued formal charges of civil rights violations against Typhoon!, Inc., and will seek more than $3.25 million on behalf of Thai workers it claims were subjected to unlawful employment practices by the restaurant chain.

The agency said it will seek at least $250,000 each on behalf of 13 or more Thai employees subjected to unlawful employment practices by the restaurant chain, which has a restaurant in Bend.

Oregon?s Civil Rights Division had announced in May that investigators found substantial evidence that Typhoon used its leverage over workers recruited from Thailand to impose lower pay, longer hours and unfavorable contract terms that were not faced by non-Thai employees.

?Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental right in our workplaces,? said State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who initiated the investigation of Typhoon?s practices. ?The evidence shows that Typhoon paid one class of workers less than another because of their national origin. BOLI will always take action to stop that kind of injustice.?

Several Thai workers contacted Avakian last year, They said they had left their homes and families in Thailand based on Typhoon?s promises of a good job and fair wages. Instead, they found themselves trapped in unreasonable contracts, receiving lower wages and working longer hours than their American counterparts who enjoyed better working conditions.

After hearing their personal stories, Avakian invoked the labor commissioner?s statutory authority to file a commissioner?s complaint. A commissioner?s complaint functions like any civil rights complaint filed with BOLI, but offers greater protection against retaliation because individual workers need not file in their own name.

BOLI?s charges seek non-economic damages of at least $250,000 for each E-2 visa employee discriminated against by Typhoon based on national origin.

In addition, BOLI has identified at least 11 Thai workers, employed under the E-2 visa program, who were unlawfully paid less than U.S. citizens for work as cooks in Typhoon?s Beaverton, SW Broadway, NW Everett and Gresham locations. The charges seek wages to compensate those workers and any others similarly situated and also seek an order bringing their pay in line with their non-Thai co-workers.

The Typhoon case will be prosecuted before BOLI?s Hearings Unit, with an administrative law hearing scheduled for May 15, 2012. Any final order in the case will be issued by BOLI Deputy Commissioner Doug McKean.

Agency spokesman Bob Estabrook said, "We have not been able to fully determine how many individuals were harmed, but would only get damages for those individuals that we could prove, at a contested case hearing, had been harmed by Typhoon."