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'Landmark' Settlement in Garment Workers' Lawsuit

November 24, 1998|DAVAN MAHARAJ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Vernon garment manufacturer has accepted responsibility for the alleged wage violations of one of its former sewing contractors in what civil rights attorneys described as a landmark settlement.

US Boys, which manufactures sportswear, agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by nine employees of a now-defunct outfit known as ASC Fashion.

The settlement between US Boys and the garment workers marks the first time a clothing manufacturer has agreed to pay for its contractor's alleged violation of overtime and minimum-wage laws, according to Rose Fua, an attorney for the workers.

Previously, garment manufacturers have denied legal liability for their contractors' actions.

In a settlement approved last week by U.S. District Judge William Rea of Los Angeles, US Boys agreed to, among other things, monitor its contractors by inspecting their time and payroll records each quarter.

The agreement came out of a federal suit the workers filed in 1996, alleging that they were paid significantly less than the minimum wage and were paid no overtime even though they worked up to 13 hours a day on weekdays and weekends. The suit named as defendants US Boys and ASC Fashion.

The workers, many of whom were poor immigrants, lived and worked in the North Virgil Avenue factory while making sportswear--mainly for US Boys.

"We hope other garment manufacturers will use this settlement as a model and monitor their own contractors," said Fua, an attorney with Equal Rights Advocates, a nonprofit public-interest law firm in San Francisco.

US Boys' attorney, Gina L. Chodler, said that the firm was "shocked" to learn about the alleged violations.

"US Boys hopes to fully compensate [the workers] for any work performed on its behalf and to ensure that all its contractors comply with the labor laws," she said.

Whatever Floats Your Boat: Laurence W. Peters, a retired auto-shop owner from Glendora, described his 1994 Thanksgiving Day trip to Catalina Island with his girlfriend as a "sex-filled sailing adventure."

Several months after that expedition, Peters paid the same woman $140,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that he knowingly gave her herpes. He then tried to recoup the money by blaming it on his boat.

In a suit against his boat insurer, Peters said his 42-foot Chris Craft yacht was "a sign of his wealth and status [that] fostered romance."

The insurer was obligated to defend him against his girlfriend's legal attack, Peters asserted, because the pleasure craft's stateroom was used for the sex acts that led to her contracting the communicable disease.

In fact, Peters pointed out, the insurance policy written by Firemen's Insurance Co. of Newark, N.J., covered "bodily injury" arising from "use" of the vessel.

A judge dismissed Peters' suit. Earlier this month, a state appeals court in Los Angeles upheld that decision, calling Peters' theories "outlandish" and absurd.

"This is not the type of boat 'use' contemplated by [Peters'] yacht policy," Presiding Judge Roger Boren wrote in a published opinion, which means the case can be cited as legal precedent. "The presence of a boat in this instance is incidental, not essential."

Burma Revisited: Outgoing Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Scott Harshbarger is appealing a federal judge's decision striking down a state law designed to show opposition to Myanmar's military regime.

Earlier this month, Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled that the state's 2-year-old law penalizing companies doing business in Myanmar interfered with the federal government's power to regulate foreign affairs.

But Harshbarger, a Democrat who lost the governor's race this month, announced that he will appeal the ruling before his term expires this year.

The law, which was meant to protest human rights violations in the Southeast Asian nation, inflates by 10% any bids from companies doing business in Myanmar, formerly called Burma. A powerful trade group including Unocal and Citibank challenged the law, saying it hurt their businesses.

Byron Rushing, a Democratic state representative who wrote the so-called Burma law, said that if Tauro's ruling were left on the books, it would have "horrendous implications" for similar purchasing laws in 46 states.

Times staff writer Davan Maharaj covers legal issues. He can be reached by e-mail at davan.maharaj@latimes.com.

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