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Matador v. Centene Management Company LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

February 5, 2018

KHARMONIQUE MATADOR, Plaintiff,
v.
CENTENE MANAGEMENT COMPANY LLC and SUNSHINE STATE HEALTH PLAN, INC., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          THOMAS B. SMITH United States Magistrate Judge

         Pending before the Court is the parties' Joint Motion to Approve FLSA Settlement and Dismiss the Action with Prejudice (Doc 33). Upon due consideration, I respectfully recommend that the motion be GRANTED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed this action in July 2017 (Doc. 1). Her amended complaint alleges that Defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., by failing to pay overtime wages in connection with work she performed in the position of “Case Manager” between approximately July 2014 and November 2016 (Doc. 15). Defendants filed an answer disputing Plaintiff's claims, and raised numerous affirmative defenses, including an assertion that Plaintiff was properly classified as exempt from overtime and was compensated for all time worked at the appropriate wage rate (Doc. 17).

         In her answers to the Court's interrogatories, Plaintiff estimated her unpaid overtime wages totaled $12, 807.90 (calculated using the “half-time” method, based on Plaintiff's allegation that she worked twenty-five overtime hours per week between July 2014 and mid-July 2016), along with $6, 777.23 in overtime which Plaintiff claimed was owed for uncompensated work allegedly performed between July 2016 and November 2016 (15 alleged unpaid overtime hours per week) (Doc. 19). The parties entered into extensive settlement negotiations and have reached an agreement to settle this matter (Doc. 30). The instant motion followed.

         II. Discussion

         Legal Standard

         “The principal congressional purpose in enacting the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was to protect all covered workers from substandard wages and oppressive working hours, ‘labor conditions [that are] detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency and general well-being of workers.'” Barrentine v. Ark.-Best Freight Sys., Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 739 (1981) (alternation in original) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 202(a)). “Any employer who violates the provisions of section 206 or section 207 of [the FLSA] shall be liable to the employee or employees affected in the amount of their unpaid minimum wages, or their unpaid overtime compensation, and in an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Section 206 establishes the federally-mandated minimum hourly wage, and § 207 prescribes overtime compensation of “one and one-half times the regular rate” for each hour worked in excess of forty hours during a given workweek. The provisions of the FLSA are mandatory and “cannot be abridged by contract or otherwise waived.” Barrentine, 450 U.S. at 740. To permit otherwise would “‘nullify the purposes' of the [FLSA] and thwart the legislative policies it was designed to effectuate.” Id. (quoting Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O'Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 707 (1946)).

         The parties seek judicial review and a determination that their settlement of Plaintiff's FLSA claim is a “fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide dispute” over FLSA issues. See Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1354-55 (11th Cir. 1982). If a settlement is not one supervised by the Department of Labor, the only other route for compromise of FLSA claims is provided in the context of suits brought directly by employees against their employers 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.” Id. at 1353 (citing Schulte, Inc. v. Gangi, 328 U.S. 108 (1946)).

         The Eleventh Circuit has held that “[s]ettlements may be permissible in the context of a suit brought by employees under the FLSA for back wages because initiation of the action by the employees provides some assurance of an adversarial context.” Id. at 1354. In adversarial cases:

The employees are likely to be represented by an attorney who can protect their rights under the statute. Thus, when the parties submit a settlement to the court for approval, the settlement is more likely to reflect a reasonable compromise of disputed issues than a mere waiver of statutory rights brought about by an employer's overreaching. 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; we allow the district court to approve the settlement in order to promote the policy of encouraging settlement of litigation.

Id.

         In determining whether a settlement is fair and reasonable, the Court considers the following factors: “(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 probability of plaintiffs' success on the merits; (5) the range of possible recovery; and (6) the opinions of counsel.” Hamilton v. Frito-Lay, Inc., No. 6:05-cv-592-Orl-22JGG, 2007 WL 328792, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 8, 2007). There is a “'strong presumption' in favor of finding a settlement fair.” Id. (citing Cotton v. Hinton, 559 F.2d 1331 (5th Cir. 1977)).

         Before approving a settlement, the district court must first scrutinize the parties' agreement and determine whether it is a "fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide dispute" of the FLSA issues. Lynn's Food, 679 F.2d at 1354-55. If the settlement reflects a reasonable compromise of issues that are actually in dispute, the Court may approve the settlement “in order to promote the policy of encouraging settlement in litigation.” Id. at 1354. The nature of this lawsuit prompts the district court's review of the parties' settlement agreement rather than an examination conducted by the ...


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