Seymore v. Sheffield et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Judge Gray M. Borden on 6/29/2016. (wcl, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
LINDA SHEFFIELD d/b/a COMPLETE )
CAREGIVERS, et al.,
CASE NO. 1:16-cv-314-GMB
Before the court is the parties’ Notice of Settlement and Request for Judicial
Approval of Settlement Agreement (Doc. 5). The parties are requesting approval to settle
the claims of Plaintiff Wykeshia Seymore (“Seymore”) under the Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201−209. A copy of the proposed settlement agreement is
attached as an exhibit to the parties’ motion. Doc. 5-2. For the reasons that follow, the
proposed settlement will be approved with one provision struck.1
I. APPROVAL OF SETTLEMENT
“Because the FLSA was enacted to protect workers from the poor wages and long
hours that can result from great inequalities in bargaining power between employers and
employees, the FLSA’s provisions are mandatory and, except in two narrow circumstances,
are generally not subject to bargaining, waiver, or modification by contract or settlement.”
The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Docs. 9 & 10.
Stalnaker v. Novar Corp., 293 F. Supp. 2d 1260, 1262 (M.D. Ala. 2003) (citing Brooklyn
Savings Bank v. O’Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 706 (1945)). The first exception to this rule is that
the Secretary of Labor may supervise the payment of back wages to employees under 29
U.S.C. § 216(c). The second exception permits settlement of an employee’s claims for
back wages under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) if a court scrutinizes the settlement and determines
that it is a “fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide dispute over FLSA provisions.”
Lynn’s Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1353, 1355 (11th Cir. 1982).
The second exception is applicable here, as there is a bona fide dispute over the
amount of unpaid overtime wages owed to Seymore. After conducting a fairness hearing
and reviewing the terms of the settlement agreement—by which Seymore will receive
$5,925 ($2,962.50 in unpaid overtime wages; $2,962.50 in liquidated damages; and $500
as consideration for a general release of all claims she could have asserted as part of this
lawsuit) and her attorneys will receive $9,985 in fees and expenses—the court concludes
that the proposed settlement is a fair and reasonable resolution of the dispute, except to the
extent discussed below.
II. CONFIDENTIALITY PROVISION
Section 4 of the proposed settlement agreement prohibits Seymore from disclosing
“the terms, conditions, and amounts” of the agreement “except as may be required by law
or court order to comply with judicial process or tax reporting requirements.” Doc. 5-2 at
2. However, “confidentiality provisions in, and the sealing of, FLSA agreements are
against public policy.” Hunter v. Big Daddy Foods, Inc., 2016 WL 900645, at *2 (M.D.
Ala. Mar. 9, 2016). This is because, absent some compelling reason, removing FLSA
settlement agreements between employees and employers from public scrutiny would
“thwart the public’s independent interest in assuming that employees’ wages are fair and
thus do not endanger the national health and well-being.” Stalnaker, 293 F. Supp. 2d at
1264; see also Dees v. Hydradry, Inc., 706 F. Supp. 2d 1227, 1242 (M.D. Fla. 2010) (“A
confidentiality provision in an FLSA settlement agreement . . . contravenes the legislative
purpose of the FLSA. . . . The district court should reject as unreasonable a compromise
that contains a confidentiality provision, which is unenforceable and operates in
contravention of the FLSA.”).
During the fairness hearing, neither party presented the
court with a compelling reason to approve the parties’ proposed settlement as submitted
(that is, with the confidentiality provision included).2 Given the absence of such a reason,
along with the strongly disfavored view of confidentiality provisions in FLSA settlements
among courts in this Circuit, the court is compelled to strike Section 4 from the parties’
proposed settlement agreement.3 See, e.g., Guerra v. Flores, 139 F. Supp. 3d 1288, 1292
(M.D. Ala. 2015) (“Non-public FLSA settlements are not fair and reasonable because the
rights secured by the FLSA have a public-private character . . . .”); Briggins v. Elwood TRI,
Inc., 3 F. Supp. 3d 1277, 1289−91 (N.D. Ala. 2014); Walker v. U.S. Title Loans, Inc., 2011
WL 1789976, at *2 (M.D. Ala. May 10, 2011) (“Numerous courts have recently declined
During the fairness hearing, Defendant informed the court that she requested the inclusion of the
confidentiality provision in the settlement agreement out of a concern for her clients’ privacy. The court
does not find this reason compelling enough to justify a departure from the well-settled consensus in this
Circuit that confidentiality provisions in FLSA settlement agreements are generally against public policy
and, therefore, should not be enforced.
The court further notes that the confidentiality provision is likely unenforceable, or at least ineffective for
its stated purpose, as a result of the public filing of the proposed settlement agreement. See Hunter, 2016
WL 900645 at *2, n.2; Poulin v. Gen. Dynamics Shared Res., Inc., 2010 WL 1813497, at *2 (W.D. Va.
May 5, 2010).
to approve FLSA settlement agreements containing confidentiality provisions or have
limited their approval of the agreement to those terms excluding such provisions.”); Dees,
706 F. Supp. 2d at 1242. The remainder of the agreement is approved.
An appropriate judgment will be entered separately.
DONE this 29th day of June, 2016.
/s/ Gray M. Borden
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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