Worley v. North Alabama Family Services Inc
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge John H England, III on 1/13/14. (CTS, )
2014 Jan-13 AM 09:05
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHER DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
NORTH ALABAMA FAMILY
CIVIL ACTION NO. 4:12-cv-3458-JHE
This is a Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., case in which
the plaintiff, Frances Worley, seeks payment from her employer, North Alabama Family
Services, Inc. (“NAFS”), for unpaid overtime wages, liquidated damages, attorney’s fees and
costs pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §§ 216(b) and 217. (See Complaint, Doc. 1). It is now before
the court on the parties’ “Joint Motion for Approval of Agreement and Dismissal of Claims
with Prejudice.” (“Joint Motion,” Doc. 12). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction
of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons that follow, the court
approves the parties’ settlement and grants the motion to approve the joint stipulation of
Plaintiff began work with the defendant on May 20, 2011, as a resident live-in aide
at a resident home operated by defendant for mentally and/or physically disabled adult
residents. Doc. 1 at 2. Plaintiff alleges NAFS violated the FLSA by refusing to pay her
overtime for hours worked in excess of eighty hours in a two-week period, and by depriving
her of minimum wage pay by requiring her to work off the clock during her unpaid “sleep
time.” Id. at 3-4.
The defendant denies Worley regularly worked over forty hours in a work week and
denies it deprived her of minimum wage pay. Doc. 6. The parties “disagree over the merits
of Plaintiff’s claims and the amount of overtime compensation owed her.” Joint Motion,
Doc. 12 at 4. The parties “agree that the outcome of the case is uncertain and that if this
matter were to be litigated to an award by a jury, both Parties would be forced to engage in
costly, protracted litigation.”
After extensive discovery, plaintiff’s deposition,
negotiations and exchanges of information, documents and data, the parties have reached a
settlement. Id. at 2. For purposes of this settlement, the defendants have offered plaintiff the
full amount of her unpaid overtime wages plus full liquidated damages, along with half of
the amount plaintiff claims for unpaid sleep time, plus an equal amount for liquidated
damages. Doc. 16. The “Confidential Settlement Agreement and Release,” filed under seal,
sets out the amount plaintiff will receive for reimbursement of wages and liquidated damages
in an equal amount. Doc. 16 Additionally, the agreement sets out the amount of attorneys’
fees, costs and expenses to be paid to plaintiff’s counsel. The parties state in their Joint
Motion that attorneys’ fees and costs were negotiated separately. Doc. 12 at 1 & 5.
The FLSA provides employees are generally entitled to receive overtime pay at one
and one-half times their regular rate for all hours worked in excess of 40 per week. See 29
U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). An employer who violates the FLSA is liable to its employee for both
unpaid overtime compensation and for an equal amount in liquidated damages. 29 U.S.C.
§ 216(b). In an action to recover unpaid overtime compensation, a court is further required
to award a prevailing plaintiff a reasonable attorney’s fee and costs of the action.
In Lynn’s Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1355 (11th Cir. 1982), the
court stated “there is only one context in which compromises of FLSA back wage or
liquidated damage claims may be allowed: a stipulated judgment entered by a court which
has determined that a settlement proposed by an employer and employees, in a suit brought
by the employees under the FLSA, is a fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide dispute
over FLSA provisions.” The primary focus of a court’s inquiry in determining whether to
approve an FLSA settlement is to ensure that an employer does not take advantage of its
employees in settling their claim for wages and other damages due under the statute. Collins
v. Sanderson Farms, Inc., 568 F. Supp. 714, 719 (E.D. La. 2008).
The parties have a legitimate dispute over whether Worley regularly worked over forty
hours in a work week, whether it deprived her of minimum wage pay and the amount of
overtime compensation owed plaintiff. The defendants’ offer to pay plaintiff the full amount
of her unpaid overtime wages plus full liquidated damages, along with half of the amount
plaintiff claims for unpaid sleep time, plus an equal amount for liquidated damages, as set
out in the “Confidential Settlement Agreement and Release” is an appropriate amount for the
disputed overtime pay.
Also included in the “Confidential Settlement Agreement and Release” is the agreedupon attorney’s fee, separately negotiated by the parties. “Where the attorney’s fee was
agreed upon separately, without regard to the amount paid to the plaintiff, then ‘unless the
settlement does not appear reasonable on its face or there is reason to believe that the
plaintiff’s recovery was adversely affected by the amount of fees paid to his attorney, the
Court will approve the settlement without separately considering the reasonableness of the
fee to be paid to plaintiff’s counsel.’” Davis v. The Filta Group, Inc., No. 6:10-cv-457-Orl31KRS, 2010 WL 3958701, *2 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 20, 2010)(quoting Bonetti v. Embarq Mgmt.
Co., No. 6:07-cv-1335-Orl-31GJK, 2009 WL 2371407, *5 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 4, 2009)).
Because the attorney’s fee was separately negotiated, plaintiff’s recovery clearly was not
affected by the amount of the attorneys’ fee. Although the court could approve the settlement
without considering the reasonableness of the attorneys’ fee, the court has considered the
amount of the fee and finds it to be reasonable.
Premised on the foregoing, the court finds the proposed “Confidential Settlement
Agreement and Release” to be fair and reasonable under the circumstances as to the plaintiff.
The settlement is due to be approved and this matter dismissed with prejudice.
DONE this 13th day of January, 2014.
JOHN H. ENGLAND, III
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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