A three-member arbitration panel has unanimously cleared Typhoon! of human trafficking charges in a 2008 lawsuit involving a former cook, the restaurant announced Friday. But the ruling did award the cook $260,000 for discrimination on the basis of national origin and other issues.
A spokesman for a state agency investigating the Thai restaurant chain for alleged unfair labor practices noted it was not a complete vindication of the company, and a separate issue than the state's ongoing probe.
Trafficking was the most prominent claim in Sarinya Reabroy?s lawsuit, "which garnered extraordinary negative publicity and chilled sales for the restaurant group," said a news release issued by the restaurant chain, which includes a restaurant in Bend..
?The unanimous ruling was a complete denial of the human trafficking claim, which demonized Typhoon! as participants in modern slavery and indentured servitude,? said Steve Kline, managing director of Typhoon! ?The resulting harmful publicity hurt business, discouraged regular customers from returning and generated an outpouring of negative sentiment against Typhoon! across the internet.?
They said the panel cleared the company of five of eight claims, including Sexual Harassment, Retaliation, Aiding and Abetting, and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. The panel decided in favor of Reabroy on three of the eight claims reviewed: National Origin Discrimination, Workers Compensation Discrimination, and a Wage and Hour claim.
The chairman of the arbitration panel dissented on the two larger awards. These include awards of $100,000 for National Origin Discrimination and $150,000 for Workers Compensation Discrimination.
Chairman Rob Shlachter said in his opinion that Reabroy failed to meet her burden of establishing the charges or the fact that any damages resulted from them. The discrimination award was based primarily on five ?unfair or onerous? clauses in a 12-page employee contract.
The panel also unanimously awarded Reabroy $18,150.74 for back overtime and damages. "The decision appears to have been based heavily on the failure of the kitchen manager to correct the hours and payroll after she warned cooks to stop working off the clock and sign in," the news release said.
"While the Klines believe the awards to Reabroy are unreasonably high, they?re pleased to see the human trafficking allegation resolved," the statement continued.
Steve Kline noted that Reabroy later denied making many of the statements attributed to her regarding the trafficking claims, ?but it was long after the damage had been done.?
?This outrageous human trafficking claim has been kicking our company around for a long time,? said Kline, a former screenwriter of such series as Lou Grant and The Cosby Show. ?We survived the worst of the recession,? Kline said, ?but it?s been a lot harder trying to survive these false accusations.?
?It?s been especially difficult for our staff, many of whom have been with us almost since the day we opened more than 15 years ago. One cook has brought over nine members of his family to work as cooks for Typhoon!,? Kline said. ?Two of them are moms who encouraged their daughters, who are also cooks, to work with us. I find it hard to believe that mothers would invite their daughters to work for a company that abuses them.?
The co-founder of the company said he hoped the arbitrators? ruling would inspire guests to return to Typhoon! which recently shut its newest restaurant, in West Linn, blaming the cloud over the organization due to a state Bureau of Labor and Industries claim the restaurants exploit Thai workers.
Bob Estabrook, a spokesman for BOLI, because it is a different legal process than the BOLI complaint, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian -- who Kline claimed was acting politically in his plans to run for Congress -- probably can't comment on the ruling.
But speaking for the office, Estabrook said, "While this case is separate from BOLI's investigation and is being settled in a separate legal forum, it's interesting that the arbitrators' decision seems to support the results of BOLI's investigation, awarding more than $260,000 to the worker for national origin discrimination, wage and hour violations and other charges."