Utah’s largest Asian grocer pays $525,000 after Department of Labor investigation

The penalties come after an investigation from the U.S. Department of Labor.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake Chinatown in South Salt Lake on Monday, July 10, 2023.

After an investigation and lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Labor, Utah’s largest Asian grocer — Chinatown Supermarket LLC — has paid $525,000 in back wages, penalties and damages.

In March 2022, the family-owned South Salt Lake grocer faced a federal lawsuit for obstructing an investigation into the market’s labor practices.

Chinatown Supermarket is the anchor of Salt Lake Chinatown, the massive complex of Asian-centered retailers at 3390 S. State St., South Salt Lake City.

The Wage and Hour Division obtained a preliminary injunction against the market when they “attempted to prevent investigators from interviewing employees and instructing employees to tell investigators that they did not work more than 40 hours per week,” according to a news release from the federal agency.

The labor department “also issued a subpoena to the company and its related business, Chinatown Wholesale LLC, to obtain documents about the companies’ pay practices,” the release said. The wholesale company is owned by the same family that owns the supermarket.

Resulting documents showed the employer only reported up to 80 hours in a pay period, while also paying a weekly bonus “equivalent to straight time for overtime hours worked.” Under the Fair Labor and Standards Act, “employers must pay time and one-half the regular rate of pay for hours over 40 in a workweek.”

In April 2023, a U.S. District Court for Utah ordered the grocer and the wholesale company to pay back wages and damages totaling to $251,305, and an equal amount in liquidated damages to the employees — plus another $22,390 in penalties for the overtime violations.

The companies paid the back wages and penalties in full in June, the Department of Labor’s release said.