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"While the issues itself aren't unique, speaking up and saying something about it certainly is."
Nail salons are an $8.5 billion dollar industry in the US. The Los Angeles Times reports Vietnamese Americans own 60 percent of these businesses in California, but a new lawsuit accuses some owners of mistreating their working class Vietnamese employees.
Four women—Tuyet Mai Nguyen, Thu Hang Pham, Jenny Hoang, and Trinh Truong—have sued Tustin Nailspa in Orange, California, roughly an hour from Los Angeles, for holding their wages and deducting money from their pay checks for use of supplies and spa chairs, amongst other labor code violations. The allegations follow last year's protests and in-depth New York Times investigations into nail salons' treatment of employees on the East Coast. Attorneys from Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), a nonprofit that advocates for Asian Americans in court, have taken on the case.
"Those who patronize [nail salons] really don't know the reality facing many of the workers in the industry," AAAJ representative Randy Bunnao says in a statement to Broadly.
The four women have worked for Tustin Nailspa over the past decade. Since then, several different groups of owners have ran the business. The problems began when the store added more chairs in 2005. "They couldn't wait to make money and wanted to recover what they spent right away," Hoang told the Los Angeles Times. "So they took it out on us."
The complaint claims that the women's hours were subsequently increased. They were allegedly underpaid and not compensated for overtime when working over 40 hours. The lawsuit also alleges that bosses forced the women to skip lunch, and that they did not receive extra pay for the additional work.
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This is not the first lawsuit filed against Tustin Nailspa. In 2013, the suit says, a former employee sued over similar allegations. The California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standard Enforcement then opened an investigation. Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su told the Times that the 2013 investigation of Tustin Nailspa resulted in $28,000 in fines against [owners] Tran and Nguyen."
According to the complaint, the alleged malpractices happened under the watch of multiple owners. The plaintiffs have sued both previous and current owners. Attorneys representing two sets of owners did not return Broadly's comments.
The second owners' lawyer, Karlfeldt Su, told the Times, "I can't speak on behalf of the other owners, but my clients did nothing unlawful during their operation of the nail salon, and should not have been dragged into this lawsuit in the first place." David Ezra, a attorney representing the original owners, also denied the accusations to the paper. According to the Orange County Register, the current owners' lawyer described the women as "disgruntled former employees" in court.
The four women have struggled to bring their case to court. Over the course of the suit, they have changed their legal team three times. According to the AAAJ, their first lawyer was taken off due to a conflict, and the women struggled to communicate with their second attorney, who was not fluent in Vietnamese.
The AAAJ has highlighted the challenges that immigrants face when navigating America's complicated legal system. Nail salons have provided upward mobility for some in America, but many employees have alleged mistreatment while struggling to make ends meet. Filing a lawsuit poses a huge challenge for these women, but they plan to bring their case in front of a jury trial.
"Our clients in the Tustin Nailspa case are doing something very unique and brave by speaking up," Bunnao says. "While the issues itself aren't unique, speaking up and saying something about it certainly is."
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