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Philadelphia settles lawsuit with Chinese restaurant owners over discriminatory enforcement of city ordinance

Ling Lin (behind the podium) is one of 23 restaurant owners who sued the city of Philadelphia for unlawful targeting of Chinese restaurants in the enforcement of an 11 pm curfew

The city of Philadelphia has agreed to pay 23 Chinese takeout restaurant owners $265,000 and stop enforcing a city ordinance that was the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). 

AALDEF filed Liu v. City of Philadelphia in 2018 over discriminatory intent and inconsistent enforcement of an ordinance that required businesses on residential blocks to close between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. 

According to an AALDEF analysis, Chinese restaurant owners received at least 96.5% of all issued 11 p.m. ordinance tickets. In addition, other takeout businesses on residential blocks open past 11 p.m. did not receive any tickets for four years, while some Chinese restaurants that were not on residential blocks were repeatedly ticketed, the lawsuit stated.

Under the settlement terms, the Philadelphia Police department will receive training in implicit bias, anti-discrimination and communicating with limited English proficiency community members. 

“Simply put, this settlement is meaningful because it shows our plaintiffs, as well as the larger Chinese American community in Philadelphia, that they matter,” plaintiff’s attorney Patricia Yan said to AsAmNews. “These Chinese restaurant owners have often been marginalized, since they have few resources, political or otherwise.”   

Ling Lin, who was forced to close her business due to the ordinance, told AsAmNews Chinese restaurant owners just want fair enforcement of laws. The ordinance made them “live in fear,” as well as make their children afraid of police, she said. She also mentioned the negative impact on all their businesses.

Although the city agreed to the terms of the settlement, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that city spokesperson Mike Dunn said there was no evidence the improper enforcement was based on race or nationality. 

In 2016, Philadelphia Councilperson David Oh’s office compiled a report examining the likelihood of tickets being issued to Chinese restaurant owners as compared to others. AsAmNews reported in 2017 that Oh called the enforcement of the ordinance unconstitutional.

The city of Philadelphia stated in a 2017 letter to Oh that it no longer enforced the ordinance and the lawsuit was not necessary, but The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that police continued to cite takeout restaurants later that year. 

According to AALDEF democracy program director Jerry Vattamal, the history of the 12-year ordinance includes public statements from community and City Council members that disparaged or singled out Chinese restaurants. In fact, he added that a proposed amendment to the ordinance would likely further target Chinese restaurant owners. 

“AALDEF will continue to monitor potential future legislation and will be ready to respond and take action, including potential legal action, to continue to protect this community,” Vattamal said.

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