Hibachi Grill Buffet in Elk Grove Village will settle an Illinois attorney general lawsuit that said the restaurant paid Latino workers far below the minimum wage and required them to live in overcrowded, squalid apartments infested with rats and bedbugs.
U.S. District Court Judge John Z. Lee issued a consent decree Tuesday ordering the restaurant to pay $100,000 in back wages and penalties to resolve the federal lawsuit, which described a scheme between Chinese buffet restaurants and underground Chicago employment agencies to target Mexican workers for illegally cheap labor.
In addition to the Elk Grove Village restaurant, located at 101 Busse Road, the federal judge issued consent decrees for Royal Cicero Inc., which operates Hibachi Sushi Buffet in Cicero, and Jiao's Employment Agency Inc. in Chicago.
Under the agreement, the employment agency and restaurants have to change employment practices, keep records of employees' hours and wages, provide training on discrimination laws and pay penalties and back wages. Hibachi Sushi Buffet will pay $96,000 and Jiao's will pay $16,500.
Hibachi Grill Buffet no longer houses employees, but if it does in future, the restaurant would need to provide lodging with electricity, running water, a refrigerator and other utilities, as well as keep it free of cockroaches, bedbugs and other vermin.
The defendants denied the allegations in court documents.
Two defendants in the original lawsuit filed by Madigan's office in 2015 were not included in the consent decrees. Cases against Xing Ying Employment Agency and Chinatown Agencia de Empleo are pending.
According to the lawsuit, advertisements in Chinese-language newspapers touted the Jiao employment agency as "the base camp of Mexican workers" able to provide restaurants "with competent Mexicans." The attorney general's office said restaurants called the employment agencies to staff positions with poor working conditions that failed to pay a minimum wage and overtime hours.
The Latino employees filled "back of the house" positions such as dishwashers, food cutters and buffet stockers, working up to 84 hours weekly at rates of $3 to $6 per hour, according to the lawsuit. The minimum wage in Illinois is $8.25 per hour.
Typically, the restaurants deducted commission fees for employment agencies of up to $220 off the first month's paycheck, according to the lawsuit.
"In short, these employment agencies essentially acted as central supply houses for a buffet industry seeking to profit from illegal and exploitative wages and conditions," the lawsuit said.
The attorney general's office said Hibachi Grill Buffet required Latino workers to live in substandard, overcrowded apartments leased by the restaurant nearby. Four to five men lived in a room with no beds; most slept on the floor or soiled mattresses retrieved from garbage dumpsters, according to the lawsuit.
The attorney general's office accused the employment agencies and restaurants of illegally targeting Latino people to profit off poor working conditions.
"When employees inevitably leave the restaurants," the lawsuit said "they often have nowhere else to go but back to the agencies, where they again are exploited and become indebted to the agencies for an additional agency fee in order to be placed in another restaurant job."