In October 2018, nine current and former employees of Happy Lamb Hot Pot in Cambridge filed a complaint with the United States District Court of Massachusetts alleging restaurant management committed a number of labor law violations. Allegations included failing to pay overtime wages, pocketing and improperly distributing workers’ tips, and refusing to let workers use accrued sick time.
Attorneys representing the workers filed a supplemental complaint with the US District Court of Massachusetts, which includes the names of five additional workers, bringing the total number of plaintiffs suing Happy Lamb Hot Pot to 14. The supplemental complaint states that the alleged violations occurred at both Boston-area locations of Happy Lamb Hot Pot, in Central Square, Cambridge, and in Chinatown, Boston. Greater Boston Legal Services represent the workers, who are mostly Chinese or Latino.
The complaint lists Hot Pot Boston 1 LLC, Happy Lamb Hot Pot, IPot Boston LLC, Michael Puileung Luk, Kong Wai “William” Cheung, Bin “Eason” Zhang, and Jinling “Elaine” Huang as defendants.
The complaint states that Happy Lamb Hot Pot is believed to be an affiliate and/or franchisee of Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, which was founded in Inner Mongolia, China, and now operates more than 30 restaurants in the United States and Canada. However, a corporate disclosure statement filed with the US District Court of Massachusetts by Happy Lamb Hot Pot’s counsel states that it “has no parent corporation and no publicly traded corporation owns 10% or more of its stock.”
The complaint alleges that Happy Lamb Hot Pot management failed to pay overtime wages, failed to pay its employees minimum wage, failed to properly administer a tip pool, failed to comply with Massachusetts’ earned sick time law, and retaliated against workers by reducing their hours when they complained about labor violations.
Along with wage violations, the complaint alleges that Happy Lamb Hot Pot also exposed its staff to potentially hazardous cleaning chemicals, which in some cases led to burns and other injuries of the skin. Huan Ning Huang, who worked for Happy Lamb Hot Pot from November 2016 through April 2018, detailed his injuries to Eater through a translator in November 2018.
“The reason that I quit this job was because my hand got injured while working there, but Eason wouldn’t allow me to take any leave,” said Huan Ning Huang. “As a result, I couldn’t work there anymore and had to quit.”
Huang told Eater that Happy Lamb Hot Pot uses “really, really intense bleach and detergents” to wash dishes and linens and that these chemicals burned his hands.
“When I opened the dishwasher, there was a really heavy scent of chemicals and detergent,” said Huan Ning Huang. “It made me want to vomit.”
Huang’s allegation is not the only allegation detailing bodily harm. The complaint also alleges that Tianle Zhang, who worked as a bus person at Happy Lamb Hot Pot in Cambridge from May 2017 through October 2017, and again from April 2018 through November 2018, was violently attacked by the father of defendant Bin “Eason” Zhang, who was working in the kitchen at the time. The complaint states:
...on or about August 3, 2018, Plaintiff Tianle Zhang was washing his hands in the kitchen while Defendant Eason Zhang’s father was mopping the kitchen floor. Zhang accidentally splashed some water on the floor, and Eason’s father began yelling at him in a Chinese dialect that Tianle did not understand. Suddenly, Eason’s father grabbed a kitchen knife and pointed it at Tianle’s stomach from a distance. Despite others’ attempts to hold back Eason’s father, he headed toward Tianle and slapped him on the face while holding the knife.
According to court documents obtained by Eater, workers in New York City filed a similar complaint against Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot with the United States District Court of Eastern New York in March 2018. Documents available in a federal court database confirm this. Michael Puileung Luk — a defendant named in the complaint filed with the US District Court of Massachusetts — has a name that’s very similar to a defendant named in the New York complaint, though it’s unclear if the two are the same person. Allegations in the New York complaint closely mirror allegations in the Massachusetts complaint, including minimum wage violations, failure to pay overtime, and wage theft in the form of improper payout of tips. Federal court documents indicate the parties reached a settlement in this case.
In February 2019, current and former Happy Lamb Hot Pot workers protested the alleged abuses outside the restaurant. Various allies joined them, including members of Jobs With Justice, Cambridge City Councilors Sumbul Siddiqui and Quinton Zondervan, state Rep. Michael Connolly, and Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn.
Happy Lamb Hot Pot filed an answer to the workers’ initial complaint with the US District Court of Massachusetts, which states in a general denial, “Defendants deny each and every allegation of fact, conclusion of law, or other matter contained in the Complaint that has not been expressly admitted herein.” They have not yet filed an answer to the supplemental complaint.
A status report deadline regarding mediation has been set for May 6, 2019.