Ryan et al v. Event Operations Group Inc
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 1/31/14. (ASL)
2014 Jan-31 PM 04:36
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
WALTER RYAN, et al.,
EVENT OPERATIONS GROUP,
Case No.: 2:12-cv-00670-MHH
This opinion concerns three proposed FLSA settlements. In their complaint,
plaintiffs Walter Ryan, Annie Myricks, and Roy Hall contend that defendant Event
Operations Group, Inc. (“EOG”) violated provisions of the Fair Labor Standards
Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. The parties have agreed to settle the plaintiffs’
FLSA claims, and they have asked the Court to review the terms of the proposed
(Docs. 21-23, 27-29). For the reasons stated below, the Court
approves the plaintiffs’ settlements because they are a fair and reasonable
compromise of a bona fide dispute.
Plaintiffs Ryan, and Hall filed this lawsuit on February 27, 2012. (Doc. 1).
In their complaint, they assert that EOG “provides event parking and security
services for events such as concerts, races, etc.” (Doc. 1, p. 2). According to
Ryan and Hall, EOG did not record their hours properly, and they “receive[d]
nothing over their regular rate of pay for hours worked over 40 in a week.”
Plaintiffs amended their complaint to add collective action allegations.
(Doc. 11). Ms. Myricks opted-in to the lawsuit two weeks later. (Doc. 13).
EOG admits that the FLSA authorizes this action and that the Court has
subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims. (Doc. 12, p. 4). EOG
contends that it has a “policy that no Associate is allowed to work more than 40
hours in a workweek,” and that it paid the plaintiffs consistent with “sign-in/signout sheets” that employees signed at the beginning and end of each shift. (See
Doc. 21, pp. 2-3; Docs. 27-29, pp. 2-3). Nevertheless, EOG concedes that the
plaintiffs occasionally worked more than 40 hours in a workweek, and EOG paid
them “straight time instead of overtime compensation.” (Docs. 21-23, p. 3; Docs.
27-29, p. 3). Based on affirmative defenses, EOG denies that the plaintiffs are
entitled to relief under the FLSA. (Docs. 21-23, p. 3; Docs. 27-29, p.3).
EOG has made “whole relief” offers to the plaintiffs by crediting them with
additional hours, calculating their overtime compensation for those hours, and
matching the plaintiffs’ recovery with awards of attorney fees and costs. (Docs.
12-13, p. 3; Docs. 27-29, pp. 3-4). The parties have represented to the Court that
they believe that the agreement reflects a fair and reasonable compromise of their
dispute. (Docs. 21-23, p. 5; Docs. 27-29, p. 5).
In exchange for dismissal of the claims against it with prejudice, EOG has
agreed to settle Mr. Ryan’s FLSA claim for $7720.00. The $7720.00 consists of
$3,860.00 in back wages and $ 3,860.00 in attorney fees. (Doc. 28, p. 4). EOG
has agreed to settle Mr. Hall’s FLSA claim for $7,350.00. (Doc. 27, p. 4) The
$7,350.00 consists of $3,675.00 in back wages and $3,675.00 in attorney fees.
(Doc. 27, p. 4). EOG has agreed to settle Ms. Myricks’s FLSA claim for $145.00,
inclusive of attorney’s fees and costs. (Doc. 29, p. 4).
On this record, the Court considers the parties’ motion to approve the
proposed settlement of the plaintiffs’ FLSA claims.
“Congress enacted the FLSA in 1938 with the goal of ‘protect[ing] all
covered workers from substandard wages and oppressive working hours.’ Among
other requirements, the FLSA obligates employers to compensate employees for
hours in excess of 40 per week at a rate of 1 ½ times the employees’ regular
wages.” Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 132 S. Ct. 2156, 2162 (2012)
(quoting Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight System, Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 739
(1981)); see also 29 U.S.C. §§ 202, 207(a). Congress designed the FLSA “to
ensure that each employee covered by the Act would receive ‘[a] fair day’s pay for
a fair day’s work’ and would be protected from ‘the evil of ‘overwork’ as well as
‘underpay.’” Barrentine, 450 U.S. at 739 (emphasis in original). In doing so,
Congress sought to protect, “the public’s independent interest in assuring that
employees’ wages are fair and thus do not endanger ‘the national health and wellbeing.’” Stalnaker v. Novar Corp., 293 F. Supp. 2d 1260, 1264 (M.D. Ala. 2003)
(quoting Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O’Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 706 (1945)).
If an employee proves that his employer violated the FLSA, the employer
must remit to the employee all unpaid wages or compensation, liquidated damages
in an amount equal to the unpaid wages, a reasonable attorney’s fee, and costs. 29
U.S.C. § 216(b). “FLSA provisions are mandatory; the ‘provisions are not subject
to negotiation or bargaining between employer and employee.’” Silva v. Miller,
307 Fed. Appx. 349, 351 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Lynn’s Food Stores, Inc. v. U.S.
ex. Rel. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, 679 F.2d 1350, 1352 (11th Cir. 1982)); see also
Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O’Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 707 (1945). “Any amount due that is
not in dispute must be paid unequivocally; employers may not extract valuable
concessions in return for payment that is indisputedly owed under the FLSA.”
Hogan v. Allstate Beverage Co., Inc., 821 F. Supp. 2d 1274, 1282 (M.D. Ala.
Consequently, parties may settle an FLSA claim for unpaid wages only if
there is a bona fide dispute relating to a material issue concerning the claim. To
compromise a claim for unpaid wages, the parties must “present to the district
court a proposed settlement, [and] the district court may enter a stipulated
judgment after scrutinizing the settlement for fairness.” Lynn’s Food, 679 F.2d at
1353; see also Hogan, 821 F. Supp. 2d at 1281-82.1 “[T]he parties requesting
review of an FLSA compromise must provide enough information for the court to
examine the bona fides of the dispute.” Dees v. Hydradry, Inc., 706 F. Supp. 2d
1227, 1241 (M.D. Fla. 2010). The information that the parties provide also should
enable the Court “to ensure that employees have received all uncontested wages
due and that they have received a fair deal regarding any additional amount that
remains in controversy.” Hogan, 821 F. Supp. 2d at 1282. “If a settlement in an
In Lynn’s Food, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals explained, “[t]here are only two ways in
which back wage claims arising under the FLSA can be settled or compromised by employees.
First, under section 216(c), the Secretary of Labor is authorized to supervise payment to
employees of unpaid wages owed to them. An employee who accepts such a payment supervised
by the Secretary thereby waives his right to bring suit for both the unpaid wages and for
liquidated damages, provided the employer pays in full the back wages. The only other route for
compromise of FLSA claims is provided in the context of suits brought directly by employees
against their employer under section 216(b) to recover back wages for FLSA violations. When
employees bring a private action for back wages under the FLSA, and present to the district court
a proposed settlement, the district court may enter a stipulated judgment after scrutinizing the
settlement for fairness.” 679 F.2d at 1352-53 (footnotes omitted). The Eleventh Circuit recently
reiterated the import of Lynn’s Food. See Nall v. Mal–Motels, Inc., 723 F.3d 1304 (11th Cir.
employee FLSA suit does reflect a reasonable compromise over issues, such as
FLSA coverage or computation of back wages, that are actually in dispute,” then a
court may approve a settlement. Lynn’s Food, 679 F.2d at 1354; see also Silva,
307 Fed. Appx. at 351 (proposed settlement must be fair and reasonable).
Based on the Court’s review of the proposed settlement agreement and the
information that the parties submitted regarding the terms of the proffered
settlement, the Court finds that there is a bona fide dispute in this matter that
supports the proposed settlement.
The settlement proceeds represent a fair and
reasonable compromise based on the existing evidence regarding unpaid wages.
EOC has admitted that, on occasion, the plaintiffs worked more than 40 hours in a
workweek and that EOC mistakenly paid them straight time instead of overtime. If
they accepted this fact and plaintiffs’ testimony, reasonable jurors could award
actual damages. The plaintiffs have acknowledged that there is no guarantee of an
award of liquidated damages. The plaintiffs also are aware that if the action
proceeded, EOC would argue that they are not entitled to recover overtime
compensation, liquidated damages, or attorneys’ fees under the doctrines of waiver
and estoppel. EOC acknowledges that cost of continued defense exceeds any
potential liability. Consequently, the settlement is fair and reasonable under the
circumstances of this case.2
For the reasons stated, the Court approves the parties’ proposed settlement
of the plaintiffs’ claims. The Court concludes that there is a bona fide dispute and
that the terms that the parties have negotiated constitute a fair and reasonable
resolution of that dispute. The Court will enter a separate order dismissing the
plaintiffs’ FLSA claims with prejudice.
The Court approves the final draft of the settlement agreements that the parties submitted to the
Court. (See Docs. 27-29, pp. 6-8). The Court was not willing to approve the parties’ original
agreements because they contained provisions that generally are not appropriate in FLSA
For example, the settlement agreements initially contained
confidentiality provisions and general release provisions. “[C]onfidentiality clauses and
pervasive release provisions generally render a FLSA settlement agreement unfair and
unreasonable.” Vinson v. Critter Control, Inc., 2012 WL 6737508, at *2 (S.D. Ala. Dec. 28,
2012); Hogan, 821 F. Supp. 2d at 1282 (same). Confidentiality provisions in FLSA settlements
are particularly problematic because they “have the potential to hinder unfairly the congressional
goal of universal compliance with the FLSA,” thereby affecting both the private and public
interests that the FLSA protects. Id.; see also Stalnaker, 293 F. Supp. 2d at 1264 (“Absent some
compelling reason, the sealing from public scrutiny of FLSA agreements between employees and
employers would thwart the public’s independent interest in assuring that employees’ wages are
fair and thus do not endanger ‘the national health and well-being.’”) (quoting Brooklyn Savings
Bank, 324 U.S. at 706); Dees, 706 F. Supp. 2d at 1242 (“a confidentiality provision furthers
resolution of no bona fide dispute between the parties; rather, compelled silence unreasonably
frustrates implementation of the ‘private-public’ rights granted by the FLSA and thwarts
Congress’s intent to ensure widespread compliance with the statute.”). The Court recognizes
that there may be instances in which confidentiality provisions and other pervasive release
provisions may be appropriate, but those instances are rare, and the parties must provide
compelling reasons for the Court to approve an agreement containing such provisions.
Stalnaker, 293 F. Supp. 2d at 1264; Crabtree v. Volkert, Inc., 2012 WL 6093802 (S.D. Ala. Dec.
DONE and ORDERED this 31st day of January, 2014.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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