Byline: Kristi Ellis

LOS ANGELES — U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins has ruled that a coalition of labor and human rights organizations can proceed with its suit against five Los Angeles apparel manufacturers and one retailer who allegedly did business with the EL Monte sweatshop operation, where 72 Thai workers were found last August held in virtually slavery. Collins denied a motion to dismiss the case. The motion was filed by the manufacturers in January and cleared the way for the coalition, which represents the Thai workers, to try the case in front of a jury sometime this year.
“It is the first clear statement by any federal court that manufacturers will not be able to hide behind their contracting practices,” said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California.
The five manufacturers and one retailer named in the suit are: Mervyn’s, Tomato Inc., L.F. Sportswear, New Boys Inc., Begin Inc., and BUM International Inc..
The suit charges the manufacturers with joint liability under federal and state laws, negligence and unfair business practices, among others. The coalition, which includes the ACLU of Southern California, the Asian Law Caucus, two private law firms and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, is seeking $7 million in back wages and potentially millions more in punitive and compensatory damages.
“We are alleging that the manufacturers paid the contractors a price so low that they had to know the workers were being paid well below the minimum wage,” said ACLU attorney Dan Tokaji.
Contacted for reaction, Michael Dave, attorney for New Boys, said that the jury will have to decide whether the defendants are “really these evil perpetrators of wrong doing or are they innocent victims?”
Representatives of the other defendants could not be reached for comment.

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