SAN FRANCISCO – It’s all about principal, according to a Bay Area lawyer with an advanced degree.

Specializing in labor regulations compliance, attorney Richard Ripamonti recently argued in favor of his client Ming-Hsiang Kao, who was awarded wage statute compensation when The California First District Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s decision June 21.

 “I think it’s not news to anyone that, in the field of labor law, employee misclassification is one of the biggest problems facing the labor market in the Bay Area today,” Ripamonti told The Northern California Record. “It is rampant in businesses, both large and small, and there has never been a shortage of employers attempting to creatively title workers to avoid all the basic protections afforded to non-exempt employees.”

Practicing for more than eight years in the Bay Area and in southern California, Ripamonti said the case’s initial 2009 backstory makes the recent ruling a long time coming. “We have been litigating this case for more than six years,” said Ripamonti, adding that the file is older than his children. “So, it feels great to have the court of appeals justify all that effort and validate Mr. Kao’s struggle.”

When Kao’s former employers Joy Holiday, terminated him after he moved to the U.S. on the promise of promotion as a tour company manager, the employee fought back for breach of contract and violations of federal and state labor laws. Ripamonti, who assists in authoring employment plans and handbooks, said the success of the San Francisco case lends hope.  

“My hope is that this victory will allow other workers similarly exploited to realize, they do not have to stand for this, they’re not second-class citizens and they deserve all the same protections that every California employee is granted under the law," he said. "Hopefully, because of Mr. Kao’s fight, it won’t take them six years to enforce those rights.” 

Ripamonti said of the case that was largely based on work visa regulations.

“One of the principal issues in the ruling is the appellate court recognizing that just because a worker does not yet have a work visa [or may be forced to work on a tourist visa by his employers], this is not a justification to fail to pay an employee what he is owed,” he said. 

Ripamonti hopes the published ruling demonstrates that there are no end-runs around the California Labor Code. 

“I feel it’s a reaffirmation of the basic labor code principles: a minimum salary for exemption must be an actual salary, and a worker cannot simply be called a ‘guest’ receiving a ‘stipend,’ and so forth,” he said. “These kinds of attempted loopholes are very common, particularly in the immigrant worker community, whose members are, generally, far less likely to understand their rights and speak out.”

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