APALC, Minami Tamaki File Suit Against Fresno Employer Alleging Discrimination Against Hmong, Older Workers


More than 20 current and former casino workers have filed two class action lawsuits charging that Club One Casino engaged in discrimination by segregating and reducing the hours of Hmong poker dealers, as well as firing its older employees. The Asian Pacific American Legal Center, a member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, in Los Angeles, and the law firm of Minami Tamaki LLP in San Francisco represent the workers in both lawsuits.

Club One Casino, which runs the biggest card room in central California, is one of the largest employers in Fresno, with more than 300 employees. In 2008, Club One was acquired by new management when Kyle Kirkland assumed control of Club One’s operations.

The class action lawsuits were filed Monday in Fresno Superior Court. Chang et al. v. Club One Casino was filed on behalf of 15 Asian workers alleging race and national origin discrimination, and Caglia et al. v. Club One Casino was filed on behalf of six older workers alleging age discrimination. The lawsuits allege that under Kirkland’s management, Club One sought to create a new image, one that excluded its Hmong and older workers even though many had been working at Club One for more than 10 years. Chang et al v. Club One Casino also alleges that the casino, as part of company-wide pattern of employment discrimination, targeted Hmong and other Asian employees with real or perceived accents.

“Club One Casino’s exclusion of Hmong poker dealers from working during high profile poker events bears ugly reminders of a time when minorities could only sit in the back of the bus,” said APALC Attorney Justin Ma. “Club One has no problem soliciting business from Asian customers, which makes its treatment of Asian workers particularly reprehensible.”

APALC and Minami Tamaki previously brought a pending class action lawsuit against Club One for several wage violations including confiscating tips customers leave for dealers and failing to pay workers a minimum wage. The case is currently before an arbitrator.

The complaints filed Monday allege that under Kirkland’s management, Club One systematically segregated its Hmong dealers from working at well-publicized, special event poker tournaments. For example, when a Hmong dealer walked to a tournament table to work, he was stopped by a supervisor and replaced by a Caucasian dealer. Club One also dramatically reduced the working hours of at least 28 Asian dealers all on the same day in August 2008. And one by one, Club One fired or forced out at least 30 workers who were 40 years of age and older.

“Hmong and Asian poker dealers are the backbone of Club One Casino,” said plaintiff Bee Vang, a dealer fired after complaining of discrimination. “For Club One to cut our work schedules from four or five days to one or two days was humiliating and unfair.”

As described in the complaint, Kirkland also told workers that, “I can train a dog to deal, but I can’t train you people to smile.” After complaining of discrimination, several workers were suspended and fired by Club One.

“Club One fired me when I was 65-years old after I worked hard for the casino for over 7 years,” said plaintiff Toney Johnson, a former floor person. “Since Club One’s new management took over, many if not all of my co-workers who are 50 and older have been fired or forced out,” said Mr. Johnson.

“Since new ownership took over management in early 2008, Club One started practices that violate California fair employment and wage laws,” said Brad Yamauchi, a partner with Minami Tamaki LLP. “Club One will now be held accountable for its patterns of discrimination against Hmong and older employees and its failure to comply with longstanding wage and hour laws. The workers we represent have suffered from lost wages and jobs due to Club One’s illegal acts.”

“We trust that civic and business leaders in the Fresno community support our efforts to enforce the California Fair Employment in Housing Act and Labor Code requiring equal employment opportunity and payment of wages due,” Yamauchi added.

“Our state’s civil rights laws absolutely prohibit the exclusion and discrimination alleged and should remedy this injustice and prevent future discrimination,” said APALC Attorney Nicole Ochi. “We hope these cases inspire other workers to stand up and demand their rights.”

To read the age discrimination lawsuit, visit (http://www.apalc.org/pressreleases/2011/ClubOne_AgeDiscrimination.pdf)

To read the race discrimination lawsuit, visit (http://www.apalc.org/pressreleases/2011/ClubOne_RaceDiscrimination.pdf)

APALC and Minami Tamaki are seeking additional workers who may have been discriminated against by the casino. For more information about the lawsuits, please leave a voicemail at 1-559-492-8819. Someone will return your call.

Founded in 1983, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for civil rights, providing legal services and education, and building coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Pacific Americans and to create a more equitable and harmonious society. APALC is a member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, which also includes Asian American Institute (Chicago, IL), Asian American Justice Center (Washington, DC) and Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco, CA).

About the Author