Batts et al v. Mid South Waffles, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 9/23/2014. (ASL)
2014 Sep-23 PM 04:09
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
VICKY BATTS, CHERYL
PUCKETT, MEGAN DESIREE
MILLER, LUCINDA DOTSON,
EMILY AYERS, SKYLER
BURGESS, JOSHUA CARLISLE,
JAMES RODNEY HAMPTON,
KELBY LEIGH HEAD, RACHEL
NICHOLE HOWARD, JANIE
CASSADY, SHANNON DOTSON,
JEANINE PARTAIN, and SHELLY
MID SOUTH WAFFLES, INC.,
d/b/a WAFFLE HOUSE ,
Case No.: 3:13-CV-01946-MHH
The plaintiffs, Vicky Batts, Cheryl Puckett, Megan Desiree Miller, Lucinda
Dotson, Emily Ayers, Skyler Burgess, Joshua Carlisle, James Rodney Hampton,
Kelby Leigh Head, Rachel Nichole Howard, Janie Jefferys, Cameron Cassady,
Shannon Dotson, Jeanine Partain, and Shelly Ayers, filed this lawsuit on October
21, 2013 pursuant to § 216(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. (Doc. 1, p.
2). Regina Gail Woods joined the lawsuit in October 2013. (Doc. 14, p. 2).
Plaintiffs claim that their employer, Mid South Waffles, Inc., failed to pay them
properly for their work. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 37–42).
After exchanging information and evaluating the plaintiffs’ claims, the
parties negotiated a settlement and filed a joint motion for court approval of their
proposed FLSA settlement. (Doc. 14, p. 2–3). Although it denies the plaintiffs’
claims, Mid South Waffles has agreed to pay a total of $32,500 to settle the case.
(Id.). That sum includes $17,256.66 in attorney fees. (Id. at 4). The balance of the
settlement fund will be distributed to the plaintiffs as follows:
Rachel Nichole Howard
Regina Gail Woods1
James Rodney Hampton
Kelby Leigh Head
Megan Desiree Miller
Plaintiff Regina Gail Woods opted not to execute her settlement agreement and chose to
dismiss her claim with prejudice. (Doc. 13).
Callie Hurd Forsythe2
(Id. at 4–5). The parties calculated these payments based on the number of shifts
each plaintiff worked for Mid South Waffles during the time period at issue in this
lawsuit.3 (Id. at 4).
On this record, the Court considers the parties’ motion to approve the
proposed settlement of the plaintiffs’ FLSA claims.
A. The Fair Labor Standards Act
“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
Cassandra Salters and Callie Hurd Forsythe asserted FLSA claims against Mid South Waffles,
but neither made an appearance in this case by filing a Notice of Consent to Join. (Doc. 19, p.
3). The parties resolved Ms. Salters’s and Ms. Forsythe’s claims in the settlement agreement
even though neither payee is a named plaintiff. (Id.).
Plaintiff Joshua Carlisle is not receiving a settlement payment because, as the parties found out
during arbitration, Mr. Carlisle was not employed by Mid South Waffles during the time period
at issue in this lawsuit. (Doc. 14, p. 4).
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, then 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 F. App’x 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.
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
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 should also
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
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 reiterated the import of Lynn’s Food in Nall v. Mal–Motels, Inc., 723 F.3d 1304 (11th
court may approve a settlement. Lynn’s Food, 679 F.2d at 1354; see also Silva,
307 F. App’x at 351 (proposed settlement must be fair and reasonable).
B. The Settlement Agreement is a Fair and Reasonable Resolution of a
Bona Fide Dispute.
The Court finds that the parties’ settlement is a fair and reasonable
resolution of a bona fide dispute. The plaintiffs are made whole by the settlement;
they will be compensated for work for which they allege they were not paid. Both
the plaintiffs and Mid South Waffles have legitimate reasons to resolve this matter
through settlement. Plaintiffs allege that Mid South Waffles failed to compensate
them for time that they worked “off-the-clock.” (Doc. 1, ¶ 4). Mid South Waffles
denies that it violated the FLSA. To prevail at trial, the plaintiffs would have to
prove that Mid South Waffles required “off-the-clock” work, a fact that can be
difficult to substantiate.
(See Doc. 14, p. 8; Settlement Approval Hearing
Transcript, p. 2). Thus, the plaintiffs were not guaranteed success in arbitration or
at trial. (Doc. 14, p. 8). For Mid South Waffles, conducting an arbitration for each
plaintiff would be a burdensome and expensive exercise. (Hrg. Tr., p. 5). Thus,
Mid South Waffles reasonably prefers to resolve this dispute through settlement.
Furthermore, the way in which the parties calculated the settlement awards
comports with the goal of the FLSA—to ensure that employees are made whole.
Here, the parties calculated each plaintiff’s award based on the number of shifts the
plaintiff worked during the time period involved in this lawsuit. (Doc. 14, p. 4).
The parties also based the settlement on the standard minimum wage—$7.25 an
(Hrg. Tr., p.2).
Because 90% of the plaintiffs were servers, and the
minimum wage for servers is only $2.18 an hour, $7.25 an hour is substantially
more than the rate at which those plaintiffs actually were paid. (Hrg. Tr. 2). The
fact that the parties used the higher rate in the calculations further evinces the
Based on the Court’s review of the proposed settlement agreements and the
information that the parties submitted at the hearing in this matter, the Court finds
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. Therefore, the Court approves the parties’ proposed FLSA settlement.
The Court will enter a separate order dismissing the plaintiffs’ FLSA claims with
DONE and ORDERED this September 23, 2014.
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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