South LA company accused of sweatshop conditions agrees to $225K settlement

The owners of a South Los Angeles garment company accused of violating workplace laws agreed to a $225,000 settlement, the City Attorney's Office announced today.

"It is, to my knowledge, the first time that as part of a settlement agreement, a defendant employer has agreed to have a monitor like that in place domestically,'' said Deputy City Attorney Julia Figueira-McDonough, one of the prosecutors who negotiated the $225,000 settlement.

About 50 minimum-wage workers at Seventeen Inc. -- formerly known as Q&I Inc. -- complained that the garment factory's owners and operators required them to work 12-hour shifts, sometimes two or three shifts back-to-back, without any overtime pay or rest breaks, six days a week, to supply clothes to Forever 21, Macy's and other retailers.

The workers also complained about hazardous and unhealthy workplace conditions, including unsanitary bathrooms with defective plumbing; a cockroach and rodent infestation; and exposure to harmful chemicals, according to the City Attorney's Office. Because the factory's doors were locked at night, night shift workers had no way to leave the building in case of emergency, the workers claimed.

Under the settlement finalized Friday, Sung Jin Yeo, Miyoung Jeong, Kevin Yeo, Mina Mijung Kim, Jeannie Kum Hui agreed to give workers back pay and to shoulder the cost of having an independent monitor observe the factory for a year. Company representatives could not be immediately reached for comment.

Figueira-McDonough said the settlement covers workers at the factory over the past year, because the employer claimed to have records only for that period, even though the factory has been operating for four years.

Former workers who were not part of the settlement can still seek restitution, according to the prosecutor.

"We settled our case in the hopes of getting the money that was owed to the workers who we could identify. We did not, as part of the settlement, preclude other workers from coming forward and, for example, going to the Labor Commissioner, which is the administrative remedy that an individual workers can take on their own without an attorney,'' she said.

"They can go through either a private lawsuit or a labor commissioner and try to get their wages plus penalties on top of that, if those are appropriate,'' she added.

Two other defendants who were named in the lawsuit are not part of the settlement. Figueira-McDonough said they are suspected of having fled the country.

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