Birdie v. Brandi's Hope Community Services, LLC et al
ORDER granting 110 joint motion to approve settlement and for dismissal. A final judgment dismissing this action with prejudice will follow in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58. Signed by Honorable David C. Bramlette, III on August 1, 2018 (JBR)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
BRANDI’S HOPE COMMUNITY SERVICES, LLC
and DANNY COWART
ORDER AND OPINION
Plaintiff Renza Birdie and Defendants Brandi’s Hope Community
Services, LLC and Danny Cowart move the Court to approve their
settlement and dismiss this Fair Labor Standards Act suit. For the
reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.
This dispute arises from Brandi’s Hope’s alleged failure to
pay overtime to employees who worked more than 40 hours per week.
disabled adults. (Doc. 1, ¶ 17)
Brandi’s Hope maintains its
corporate headquarters in Magee, Mississippi. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10) Danny
Cowart is Brandi’s Hope’s owner and chief executive officer. (Doc.
1, ¶ 11) Renza Birdie worked for Brandi’s Hope as a “direct support
professional” from November 2014 to May 2015. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 9, 15)
As a direct support professional, Birdie worked 17-hour shifts ——
from 3:00 P.M. to 8:00 A.M. —— caring for disabled adults. (Doc.
1, ¶ 19)
In February 2017, Birdie sued Cowart and Brandi’s Hope under
Section 216(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. (Doc. 1, ¶ 1)
Birdie alleged that she and similarly situated direct support
professionals were not compensated for working overtime. (Doc. 1,
¶ 29) In particular, Birdie alleged that a Brandi’s Hope policy
that required direct support professionals to clock out between
10:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M. deprived her of 8 hours of compensation
per shift. (Doc. 1, ¶ 21)
In April 2017, Brandi’s Hope and Cowart answered Birdie’s
complaint, denied liability, and raised 21 affirmative defenses.
(Doc. 6) One defense asserted that Brandi’s Hope and Cowart were
not liable because they relied on the United States Department of
Labor’s guidance in deciding not to compensate Birdie for the hours
she worked between 10:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M. (Doc. 6, p. 3) Another
defense asserted that even if Birdie proved liability, she could
recover only two years of compensation. (Doc. 6, p. 3)
In June 2017, the Court conditionally certified a collective
action class consisting of direct support professionals employed
by Brandi’s Hope who stayed with a client overnight at any time
since February 24, 2014. (Doc. 20, p. 12)
settlement during a conference before Magistrate Judge Michael T.
Parker. (Minute entry of 6/15/18) Magistrate Judge Parker ordered
the parties to submit the proposed settlement to this Court for
approval. (Minute entry of 6/15/18; text-only order of 7/2/18) The
parties submitted the proposed settlement to the Court for in
camera review on July 11, 2018.
The parties now move the Court to approve their proposed
claims with prejudice. (Doc. 110)
Compromise of Fair Labor Standards Act Claims
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay
overtime to covered employees who work more than 40 hours in a
week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a). An employer that fails to pay overtime
to a covered employee who works more than 40 hours in a week is
liquidated damages. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).
FLSA substantive rights cannot be waived. Martin v. Spring
Break ’83 Prods., L.L.C., 688 F.3d 247, 257 (5th Cir. 2012). Most
courts hold that “in the absence of supervision by the Department
of Labor or scrutiny from a court, a settlement of an FLSA claim
is prohibited.” Bodle v. TXL Mortg. Corp., 788 F.3d 159, 164 (5th
Cir. 2015) (citing Lynn’s Food Stores v. Dep’t of Labor, 679 F.2d
1350, 1353 (11th Cir. 1982)).1
The Court will approve an FLSA settlement if it (1) resolves
a bona fide FLSA dispute and (2) is fair and reasonable. See, e.g.,
Black v. DMNO, LLC, Civ. A. No. 16-CV-2708, 2018 WL 2299055, at *4
(E.D. La. May 21, 2018); Koviach v. Crescent City Consulting, LLC,
Civ. A. No. 14-2874, 2017 WL 4351509, at *4 (E.D. La. Oct. 2,
A. Bona Fide Dispute
The parties say that the proposed settlement resolves a bona
fide dispute over two FLSA overtime-compensation provisions. (Doc.
111, p. 7) The Court agrees and finds that a bona fide FLSA dispute
exists in two respects.
First, the parties dispute whether Cowart and Brandi’s Hope
can prove good faith under 29 U.S.C. § 260. (Doc. 111, p. 7)
Section 260 of the FLSA empowers a court to reduce liquidated
damages awarded against an employer that violated the FLSA but
acted in good faith with the reasonable belief that its actions
In the Fifth Circuit, oversight is not always required: Courts will
enforce private settlements compromising FLSA claims if the settlements “are
reached due to a bona fide FLSA dispute.” Bodle, 788 F.3d at 165; Martin, 688
F.3d at 257.
were lawful. 29 U.S.C. § 260. Cowart and Brandi’s Hope argue ——
and Birdie disputes —— that § 260 applies because Defendants
decided not to compensate Birdie for the hours she worked from
10:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. in good faith, reasonable reliance on
Department of Labor guidelines. (Doc. 111, p. 7)
Second, the parties dispute whether Birdie can recover unpaid
overtime compensation for a two-year or three-year period. See 29
U.S.C. § 255(a). Birdie says that she is entitled to three years
of compensation because Defendants willfully violated the FLSA.
(Doc. 111, p. 7) Defendants rejoin that they acted in good faith
at all times. (Doc. 111, p. 7)
B. Fair and Reasonable
reasonable, fair, and the product of arms-length negotiations by
experienced counsel. (Doc. 110, p.
2) The Court agrees.
To decide if the proposed settlement is fair and reasonable,
the Court considers “(1) the existence of fraud or collusion behind
the settlement; (2) the complexity, expense, and likely duration
of the litigation; (3) the stage of the proceedings and the amount
of discovery completed; (4) the possibility of plaintiffs’ success
on the merits; (5) the range of possible recovery; and (6) the
opinions of class counsel, class representatives, and absent class
members.” Union Asset Mgmt. Holding A.G. v. Dell, 669 F.3d 632,
639 n.11 (5th Cir. 2012).2
The first factor supports approving the proposed settlement
because no party suggests the proposed settlement is the product
of fraud or collusion and Magistrate Judge Parker supervised the
The second factor supports approving the proposed settlement.
The legal issues this case raises are not complex, but the cost
and duration of a three-week FLSA collective action bench trial
would be significant. (Doc. 104)
The third factor is neutral. This case has been pending for
The fourth factor supports approving the proposed settlement.
The parties have not briefed —— and this Court has not decided ——
any significant issues. So at this point, Birdie and Defendants
are equally likely to succeed on the merits.
The fifth factor supports approving the proposed settlement.
The proposed settlement awards members of the collective action
class unpaid overtime back pay based on the number of hours and
Courts reviewing the fairness of FLSA settlements draw from opinions
interpreting Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e). See Akins v. Worley
Catastrophe Response, LLC, Civ. A. No. 12-2401, 2014 WL 1456382, at *2 (E.D.
La. Apr. 14, 2014).
professional. (Doc. 111, p. 4) The settlement award takes into
account the types of damages the members of this collective action
class would recover if successful. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).
proposed settlement. Defendants, members of the collective action
class, and counsel represent that the proposed settlement is fair
and reasonable. (Doc. 111, p. 9)
The parties have shown that the proposed settlement resolves
a bona fide FLSA dispute and is fair and reasonable.
IT IS ORDERED that the Joint Motion to Approve Settlement and
for Dismissal (Doc. 110) is GRANTED.
A Final Judgment dismissing this action with prejudice shall
follow in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58.
SO ORDERED, this the 1st day of August, 2018.
/s/ David Bramlette_________
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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