United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER P. TUITE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
cause is before me on referral for consideration of the
parties' Joint Stipulation and Motion to Approve
Revised Settlement and for Dismissal With Prejudice.
(Doc. 25). The parties initially submitted a settlement
agreement for the Court's approval on March 29, 2019.
(Doc. 16). Following a May 9, 2019, hearing on the matter
(Doc. 23), however, the parties filed the instant motion on
May 13, 2019, along with a revised settlement agreement.
(Doc. 25). For the reasons discussed below, I respectfully
recommend that the parties' motion be granted and that
the case be dismissed with prejudice.
Yara Vallejos initiated this action against her former
employers, Defendant CDL Childcare, Inc., and its
owner/operator, Defendant Chad D. Locicero, seeking to
recover, inter alia, unpaid overtime wages under the
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et
seq. (Doc. 1). Vallejos alleges in her complaint that,
while employed by the Defendants as an hourly non-exempt
employee, she was required to work more than forty hours per
week but was not paid the required rate of one and one-half
times her regular pay for those overtime hours. Id.
at 4. In particular, Vallejos asserts that, although she
routinely worked twelve hours per day, five days a week, the
Defendants paid her for only forty hours of work per week.
Id. She further claims that the Defendants opted to
provide her with childcare at a reduced rate in lieu of
paying her overtime compensation, but that the amount they
owed her exceeded the value of this benefit. Id. at
to Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United States,
679 F.2d 1350 (11th Cir. 1982), the parties now seek the
Court's approval of the revised settlement agreement,
which they advise resolves Vallejos's FLSA claim. Under
the terms of that agreement, the Defendants are to pay
Vallejos $1, 950 in unpaid overtime wages, an equal amount in
liquidated damages, and an additional $100. (Doc. 25 at 8).
The Defendants further agree that, should any prospective
employers contact them with respect to Vallejos's tenure
at CDL Childcare, they will provide only the fact and dates
of her employment. Id. at 13. For her part, Vallejos
agrees to release the Defendants from all claims she may have
against them under the FLSA and Florida law for unpaid wages,
minimum wage, overtime, and liquidated damages, and to waive
any rights to reinstatement or to seek other employment with
the Defendants. Id. at 9, 13. In addition, the
parties agree that the Defendants shall pay Plaintiff's
counsel $2, 500 in attorney's fees and costs.
Id. at 8.
enacted the FLSA to protect employees from
“inequalities in bargaining power between employers and
employees.” Lynn's Food, 679 F.2d at 1352.
To further this Congressional purpose, the Supreme Court has
placed “limits on the ability of private parties to
settle FLSA lawsuits.” Nall v. Mal-Motels,
Inc., 723 F.3d 1304, 1307 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing
Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O'Neil, 324 U.S. 697,
actions brought directly by current and former employees for
unpaid wages, district courts must scrutinize the settlement
“for fairness” before dismissing an action.
Id. at 1306-07. Specifically, the court must
determine that the settlement is a “fair and reasonable
res[o]lution of a bona fide dispute over FLSA
provisions.” Lynn's Food, 679 F.2d at
courts are afforded discretion in deciding whether to approve
FLSA settlements. Rodrigues v. CNP of Sanctuary,
LLC, 523 Fed.Appx. 628, 629 (11th Cir.
2013). If the court finds that such a settlement
reflects a fair and reasonable compromise of the issues in
dispute, it may approve the settlement “in order to
promote the policy of encouraging settlement in
litigation.” Lynn's Food, 679 F.2d at
case, based upon my review of the aforementioned filings and
the parties' representations at the May 9 hearing, I find
that their proposed settlement constitutes a fair and
reasonable resolution of Vallejos's FLSA unpaid wage
claim under the governing precedent. See, e.g., Dees v.
Hydradry, 706 F.Supp.2d 1227 (M.D. Fla. 2010);
Moreno v. Regions Bank, 729 F.Supp.2d 1346 (M.D.
Fla. 2010). A number of factors weigh in favor of this
apparent at the outset that the settlement reflects a
resolution of a bona-fide dispute under the FLSA, insofar as
it resolves the parties' evident disagreement as to
whether (1) the Defendants are an enterprise subject to the
FLSA; (2) Vallejos is individually covered by and not exempt
from the FLSA; (3) Vallejos was compensated for all hours
worked; and (4) and liquidated damages are available in this
case. (Doc. 25 at 1, 4); Dees, 706 F.Supp.2d at
1241. In light of these disputed issues of law and fact, and
to avoid the expense and uncertainty of further litigation,
the parties have agreed to settle the matter under terms they
assert are fair and equitable, as well as in their best
interests. Id. As decisions issued in this District
have recognized in this regard, an FLSA settlement
“will, almost by definition, be reasonable”
where, as here, “the parties are represented by
competent counsel in an adversary context.”
Dees, 706 F.Supp.2d at 1241 (quoting Bonetti v.
Embarq Mgmt. Co., 715 F.Supp.2d 1222, 1227 (M.D. Fla.
fact that the parties' revised settlement agreement
includes a release provision does not alter my analysis.
(Doc. 25 at 9). By my reading, this provision is not the type
of general or pervasive release that courts have found to be
anathema to the FLSA. Moreno, 729 F.Supp.2d at
1350-52. Such general or pervasive releases are frequently
viewed as “‘side deal[s]' in which the
employer extracts a gratuitous (although usually valueless)
release of all claims in exchange for money
unconditionally owed to the employee.” Id. at
1351 (quoting Dees, 706 F.Supp.2d at 1238-42)
(emphasis added)). Because they “confer an
uncompensated, unevaluated, and unfair benefit on the
employer, ” general releases have often been considered
per se unreasonable. Id. at 1351-52.
release provision here is sufficiently narrow to withstand
judicial scrutiny. Unlike the “pervasive and
unbounded” release at issue in Moreno, which
called for the plaintiff's “release of a dizzying
array of claims, known and unknown, against the defendant,
” id. at 1350-53, Vallejos is not required to
relinquish her right to pursue unknown claims unrelated to
her unpaid wage and hour claims. Rather, the release is
limited to claims she may have arising under the FLSA or
Florida law concerning compensation for her employment with
the Defendants. (Doc. 25 at 9).
such, it does not undermine the fairness or reasonableness of
the settlement agreement. See, e.g., Mallon v. Safna,
Inc., 2019 WL 2124930, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 25, 2019),
report & recommendation adopted, 2019 WL 2121078
(M.D. Fla. May 15, 2019) (striking general release of all
Florida law claims from agreement such that under remaining
language plaintiff agreed to release defendant from only FLSA
and Florida minimum wage and overtime law claims); Dumas
v. 1 Able Realty, LLC, 2018 WL 1791534, at *3 (M.D. Fla.
Apr. 12, 2018), report & recommendation adopted,
2018 WL 1791535 (Apr. 16, 2018) (approving FLSA release that
did not require plaintiff to release all claims, but only
those asserted in complaint related to plaintiff's
employment with defendant); Cooper v. Garda CL Se.,
Inc., 2015 WL 9244682, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 18, 2015)
(finding reasonable a release of all claims existing prior to
the execution of the settlement agreement that relate to the
payment of wages and/or overtime for all hours worked,
including, but not limited to, claims arising under the FLSA,
the Florida Constitution, and the Florida Minimum Wage ...