Taylor v. Summer Classics Inc
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 1/23/14. (ASL)
2014 Jan-24 AM 10:36
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
KAREN TAYLOR, et al.,
SUMMER CLASSICS, INC.,
Case No.: 2:13-cv-00760-MHH
This opinion concerns five proposed FLSA settlements. In their Amended
Complaint, plaintiffs Karen Taylor, Cora Bray Wilson, Cherry Washington,
Carolyn Ducker, and Loretta Stacy contend that their employer, defendant Summer
Classics, Inc. (“Summer Classics”), 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
settlements. (Docs. 13, 13-1). For the reasons stated below, the Court approves
the FLSA settlements because they are a fair and reasonable compromise of a bona
Plaintiff Taylor filed this lawsuit on April 23, 2013, on behalf of herself and
all similarly situated former and current Summer Classics employees. (Doc. 1).
The Amended Complaint added four other Summer Classics employees as named
plaintiffs. (Doc. 13, p. 1).1
Southern Classics manufactures outdoor patio furniture. (Doc. 13, ¶ 2). The
plaintiffs assert that they worked for Southern Classics as seamstresses. (Doc. 11,
¶¶ 14-18). According to the plaintiffs, in late 2011 or early 2012, Southern
Classics began compensating them on a “piecework” basis instead of an
hourly basis. (Doc. 11, ¶ 19). The plaintiffs allege that when Southern
Classics changed its compensation scheme, they were earning approximately
$12.60 per hour. (Doc. 11, ¶ 19). The plaintiffs maintain that since changing
the method of compensation, Southern Classics has failed to keep adequate
records of the time the plaintiffs worked. (Doc. 11, ¶ 20). Plaintiffs also
contend that Southern Classics has “failed and/or refused to compensate
[them] and similarly situated employees in compliance with fair labor
standards for minimum wage and overtime hours worked in excess of 40
hours in a given work week.” (Doc. 11, ¶ 21).
Plaintiffs Taylor, Wilson, Washington, and Ducker are all former employees. (Doc. 11, ¶¶ 1417). Plaintiff Stacy currently is employed by Southern Classics. (Doc. 11, ¶ 18).
The plaintiffs further state that they “regularly worked a ten-hour shift,
five to six days per week, and thus averaged between fifty and sixty hours per
week.” (Doc. 11, ¶ 22). According to the plaintiffs, Southern Classics was
aware that the plaintiffs “routinely worked in excess of 40 hours per week,”
yet the company failed to pay the plaintiffs for their overtime hours. (Doc.
11, ¶ 23). According to the Amended Complaint, plaintiff Taylor complained to
her supervisor and “lead man” that she was not being paid minimum wage or
compensated for overtime, but Southern Classics “took no action to address the
situation other than to terminate [her] employment.” (Doc. 11, ¶ 25).
Southern Classics disputes the plaintiffs’ contentions. The company admits
that it paid the plaintiffs on a piece-rate basis from October 24, 2011 until
September 23, 2012; however, Southern Classics contends it correctly paid the
plaintiffs under this system of compensation. (Doc. 13, p. 2, ¶¶ 5-7; Doc. 13, p. 3,
¶ 9). The company disputes the number of hours each plaintiff may have worked
in excess of 40 hour in each work week. (Doc. 13, p. 4, ¶ 3).
For purposes of settlement, the parties agreed to calculate the number of
hours the plaintiffs worked by using a formula based upon hours recorded for
Summer Classics “zipper” employees who worked side by side with the plaintiffs
on the same shifts but who were paid hourly. (Doc. 13, p. 4, ¶¶ 4-5). The
plaintiffs acknowledge that this method is the most reliable manner in which to
calculate their actual hours worked and the amount of overtime compensation due.
(Doc. 13, p. 5, ¶ 6). Using this formula, in exchange for dismissal of the claims
against it with prejudice, Southern Classics has agreed to pay overtime
compensation and liquidated damages to the five plaintiffs in the following total
• Karen Taylor: $983.75
• Cora Bray Wilson: $1,1318.20
• Cherry Washington: $1,625.70
• Carolyn Ducker: $1,887.70
• Loretta Stacy: $1,713.10
(Doc. 13, pp. 5-6, ¶ 6). Additionally, plaintiff Taylor agrees that Summer
Classics had a legitimate, non-retaliatory basis for terminating her
employment. (Doc. 13, p. 5, ¶ 7).
The parties also agree that $10,000 is a reasonable attorney’s fee
including reimbursement of costs. The parties submit that, prior to preparing
for and participating in the settlement approval hearing in this matter,
plaintiffs’ counsel has itemized billing statements documenting over 32 hours
in the prosecution of this action and out of pocket expenses totaling $487.66.
(Doc. 13, p. 5, ¶ 8). Plaintiffs’ counsel has agreed to accept a lump sum of
$10,000 in full satisfaction of all of the plaintiffs’ claims for fees and
expenses incurred. (Doc. 13, p. 5, ¶ 8).
The parties have represented to the Court that they believe that their
proposed settlement agreement reflects a fair and reasonable compromise of their
dispute. (Doc. 13, p. 6, ¶ 4; transcript from January 23, 2013 hearing regarding
motion to approve FLSA settlement). The proposed settlement agreements do not
contain confidentiality or general release provisions.2 (Doc. 13-1, Exs. A-E).
On this record, the Court considers the parties’ motion to approve the
proposed settlement of the plaintiffs’ FLSA claims.
“[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. 7, 2012).
“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). 3 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
The parties agree that under Southern Classics’ piece-rate compensation system, overtime is
calculated based on ½ of the applicable regular rate instead of 1 ½ of the applicable regular rate.
(Doc. 13, p. 3, ¶ 1).
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 1281-82.4 “[T]he parties requesting
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
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
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 agreements 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.
Summer Classics admits that it did not record the hours actually worked by the
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. 2013).
plaintiffs when it began paying them on a piece-rate basis. Although the parties
dispute the number of overtime hours that the plaintiffs worked, Southern Classics
admits that it owes the plaintiffs some amount of overtime compensation. The
parties agreed upon a method to calculate the overtime hours that the plaintiffs
worked and the compensation and liquidated damages due to each plaintiff. The
Court finds that the method used to calculate the plaintiffs’ unpaid wages is fair
and reasonable under the circumstances of this case.
For the reasons stated above, the Court approves the parties’ proposed
settlement of the plaintiffs’ claims. The Court concludes that there is a bona fide
dispute regarding the plaintiffs’ FLSA claims, and 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.
DONE and ORDERED this January 23, 2014.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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