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Friday, March 14, 2014

Fubonn and Activists Square Off in Court Over Continuing Protests

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 11:59 AM

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The labor activists who've been peppering east Portland's Fubonn Shopping Center with unflattering flyers and picket lines since last year have caused a 1 percent drop in business, the center's owner now claims.

And that owner, Michael Liu, is doing everything he can to force the Portland Solidarity Network to account for the demonstrations, even as the group says it will hold its largest to-date this afternoon.

The two parties met at the Multnomah County Courthouse this morning, to argue a motion in the defamation suit Liu filed in October against two PSN members, as well as the former Fubonn employees who claim they were denied wages and treated poorly while working at the Fubonn Supermarket.

The activist group says the suit amounts to what is called a "strategic lawsuit against public participation," or SLAPP. That's the name given to suits companies strategically file to silence and penalize vocal critics—like pesky laborer advocates—by saddling them with legal fees. But Oregon is one of a growing number of states to enact protections against such suits: special motions that can be filed to toss defamation claims that don't have merit.

That's what PSN has argued Fubonn's case is, and that's what attorneys argued over before Multnomah County Circuit Judge Youlee Yim You this morning.

"No evidence has been produced, and yet the campaign continues," said Corey Tolliver, Fubonn's attorney. "You have a group of people who are intent on destroying a person's reputation."

The solidarity network began stirring the pot after members were approached by two former employees, Marisol Elizalde and Norma Salazar. The women say managers at the center sometimes force employees to work off the clock, refuse bathroom breaks, and once made a pregnant employee lift heavy objects. They have alleged men are paid more, and that employees are driven to tears by harsh reprimands.

Since hearing those complaints last year, PSN has repeatedly demanded—via letters, flyers, and protests like one planned this afternoon—the women be given more than $4,000 for the allegedly unpaid work.

"Yes it would have been cheaper to pay the $3,000, but my client is not willing to be held hostage," Tolliver said. He called the protests a "campaign of lies."

Judge You didn't rule in today's hearing whether all or part of Liu's suit could be ruled frivolous. In fact, to the extent her comments to attorneys were indicative of her leanings, it seemed she'd allow the matter to continue until those questions could be more fully explored.

Tolliver argued that if even one component of the lawsuit—like the claim protestors trespassed on Fubonn property—appears to be true, then the rest of the suit must be allowed to stand. Cliff Davidson, the attorney representing PSN, argued that the judge could toss the defamation portions of the suit if she wasn't convinced they'd stand up in court.

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