Lawsuit woes continue to mount for the builders of the tallest condominium development in New Jersey as a former employee is claiming her work environment was fraught with sexism and threats of deportation.
Construction on a 79-story tower at 99 Hudson Street wrapped last year, but the 781-unit project has run into a legal buzzsaw since the beginning of 2021. Developer China Overseas Holdings has been bombarded with litigation and a fresh dispute was filed back in February by Mengxun Han, a former Architectural Planner for the company.
Han, who identifies as a “resident alien” in her complaint, says China Overseas Holdings agreed to sponsor her as an H-1B nonimmigrant worker on a temporary basis upon her initial hire. But the Columbia University graduate claims she quickly discovered that the company was “engaging in a host of improper activities to manipulate and by-pass immigration and visa requirements” and used the process to oppress employees, especially younger females of Chinese origin.
Han contends in her complaint that China Overseas “manipulat[ed] job titles and employee responsibilities when submitting petitions in support of visa applications” and allowed several senior employees to work without proper documentation. She claims the intent of this practice was to restrain worker salaries and “otherwise use the application process as a tool of workplace repression.”
The lawsuit says that workers who were not U.S. citizens could face deportation in as little as 60 days if their visa became expired and asserts that China Overseas “constantly used this threat as a means to…control its employees.
Besides the visa issues, Han says she suffered frequent gender discrimination while working for China Overseas. The complaint cites specific conduct from a variety of the company’s employees including former VP of Design and Marketing Yirui Huang, who allegedly invited Han and another worker to join him in the Hamptons for the weekend and told them they “should wear bikinis so he could take sexy pictures of them.”
China Overseas Deputy CFO Howard Li also supposedly subjected Han to harassment, asking her “did your breast get a lot smaller due to weight loss?” He followed up the comment by allegedly telling her that “it’s fine because you already found a boyfriend, but it’s not helpful for me to fantasize.”
Li also allegedly told a female co-worker that her “personality is boring” and explained that “the longer you wait, the harder for you to find a boyfriend. So, it’s better for you to go back to China now and get married.”
Other harassing conduct cited in the complaint includes VP of Human Resources Hongxi Liu allegedly telling Han that women “should talk about how to upkeep the household and raise children instead of arguing over company policies.” Jiang Xia, the company’s VP of Project Development and Contract Management Department, purportedly played love songs and touched Han’s hands while they were alone in an office together.
When Han raised the concerns to China Overseas President Xiaocheng Zhou, she claims he told her in a “joking” manner that she would be fired if she kept raising problems. Chairman Wendong Xu was also allegedly dismissive of her concerns during a meeting on the issues.
Han says she was fired last September over the complaints and received a separation letter from the company offering a return ticket to China “given the cancellation of her H1-B visa status.” She is suing the company for $1 million.
The new legal action follows our initial reporting from January on a different 59-page lawsuit filed by condo buyers at the property. That case charged the company with 19 separate construction defects ranging from cracks in the building’s parking garage, water leakage, broken skirting boards, poor wood flooring installation, and unsafe windows.
About a week later, a second case was initiated by two other purchasers who claimed a penthouse unit on the 75th floor had sharply reduced ceiling heights than what was advertised. On April 2, another complaint was brought against China Overseas by eighteen eventual buyers asserting that units throughout the building are about 14% to 21% smaller than their stated square footage.
When contacted by Jersey Digs regarding the most recent litigation, China Overseas shared a brief statement through Boston-based PR firm ML Strategies. “The company denies the allegations contained in the Complaint and it intends to vigorously defend the case,” they said.
All told, four separate lawsuits have been filed against China Overseas stemming from their Jersey City project since the beginning of the year. The company has yet to file a legal response to any of the complaints in Hudson County Court.
UPDATE: A statement from China Overseas regarding the allegations was added to this article on April 12 following a response Jersey Digs received from the company.