Ping Zhang was five years into his $12-an-hour job at Winner Ford in Cherry Hill, installing prisoner seating, computers, and gun racks into nonemergency vehicles to convert them into cars for police, when he learned something that angered him.
Zhang, who had experience performing electrical work when he joined the dealership in January 2011 and gained more of it on the job, discovered that a new hire, a non-Chinese with little or no electrical or auto-body experience, would be earning $13 an hour. When Zhang started as a new hire with more experience in January 2011, he was paid $9 an hour.
Last week, the dealership, Charles S. Winner Inc., agreed to pay $150,000 in back wages and damages to eight Chinese emergency-accessories and installation technicians, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.
On Sept. 30, 2016, the EEOC sued the dealership in federal court, accusing it of routinely paying Chinese technicians $3 an hour less than its non-Chinese technicians. The three-year consent degree requires the dealership to distribute an antidiscrimination policy to its staff and to train its managers and supervisors on federal equal employment opportunity laws.
"Workers deserve equal pay for equal work," EEOC regional attorney Debra M. Lawrence said in a statement announcing the settlement. "We are pleased that Winner Ford worked with us to address these pay disparities, and that it will take affirmative measures to ensure that no workers are paid less based on national origin."
The dealer's attorney, Elizabeth Walker, did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
In its suit, the EEOC said Winner employed 15 to 20 emergency-accessories installation technicians as of March 2016. Winner started its Chinese technicians at $9 an hour, while non-Chinese technicians earned at least $12 an hour to start, the suit said. After a period of time on the job, non-Chinese technicians, often with less experience and tenure, were paid $15 to $17 an hour. After 5½ years, Zhang and the other Chinese techs were earning $12 to $13 an hour.
When Zhang complained, he was brought into a meeting with upper management, "who cursed him and threatened that if he sought legal advice, he'd be out of a job," the lawsuit said.