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Distefano v. Hampton Golf, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

August 5, 2019

EDMUND DISTEFANO, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
HAMPTON GOLF, INC., Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MAC R. MCCOY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The parties filed a Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement on August 2, 2019. (Doc. 25). Plaintiff Edmund Distefano and Defendant Hampton Golf Inc. jointly request that the Court approve the terms of their proposed settlement of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) claims asserted in this case. The proposed Settlement Agreement is attached as Exhibit A to the parties' motion. (See Id. at ECF pp. 7-11). After a careful review of the parties' submissions and the court file, the Undersigned respectfully recommends that the presiding United States District Judge APPROVE the proposed settlement.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         To approve the settlement of FLSA claims, the Court must determine whether the settlement is a “fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide dispute” of the claims raised pursuant to the FLSA. Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1355 (11th Cir. 1982); 29 U.S.C. § 216. There are two ways for a claim under the FLSA to be settled or compromised. Id. at 1352-53. The first is under 29 U.S.C. § 216(c), providing for the Secretary of Labor to supervise the payments of unpaid wages owed to employees. Id. at 1353. The second is under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) when an action is brought by employees against their employer to recover back wages. Id. When the employees file suit, the proposed settlement must be presented to the district court for the district court's review and determination that the settlement is fair and reasonable. Id. at 1353-54.

         The Eleventh Circuit has found settlements to be permissible when employees bring a lawsuit under the FLSA for back wages. Id. at 1354. The Eleventh Circuit held:

[A lawsuit] provides some assurance of an adversarial context. 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. at 1354.

         CLAIMS AND DEFENSES

         In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he worked for Defendant as a non-exempt “first assistant golf professional” from August 15, 2016 until April 13, 2018. (Doc. 1 at 3). Plaintiff alleges that during his employment with the Defendant, Plaintiff was required to perform work for which he was not compensated. (Id.). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that rather than pay him lawful overtime, Defendant required him “to work off-the-clock, usually requiring him to perform work prior to punching in and requiring him to punch out at the end of his shift but remain working.” (Id.). In the Complaint, Plaintiff estimated that Defendant denied him lawful compensation for approximately 1, 700 overtime hours in violation of the FLSA. (Id. at 4). In his answers to the Court's interrogatories, Plaintiff estimated his total claim for unpaid wages to be $33, 300.32. (Doc. 15 at ECF pp. 2, 6).

         Defendants denied Plaintiff's allegations, denied liability, and asserted several affirmative defenses. (See Doc. 9).

         ANALYSIS OF THE PROPOSED SETTLEMENT

         Bona Fide Dispute

         As a threshold matter, the Undersigned finds that a bona fide dispute exists between the parties. As the parties' adequately explain in their joint motion:

Defendant denied any liability and disputed that Plaintiff had worked in excess of 40 hours in a workweek during his employment or, assuming that the Plaintiff had worked in excess of 40 hours, Defendant maintained the number of hours of overtime hours were far less than what was claimed by the Plaintiff. In this case, the Defendant maintained time records and the Defendant disputed the Plaintiff's estimations. While the Plaintiff did often work significant overtime, it became undisputed that the Defendant paid the Plaintiff for all hours that appeared on his time card. Th[e] issue in this case then became whether or not the Defendant's time records were accurate and, if they were not, whether the Defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the Plaintiff's alleged overtime hours worked. Finally, the parties disputed whether liquidated damages were warranted given that the Plaintiff was claiming hours worked off the clock, and was paid in full for overtime for hours worked at the Defendant's golf shop, assuming such hours appeared on his time card. Despite extensive discovery, the parties agreed that genuine issues of disputed facts remained, namely whether the Plaintiff was required to work off the clock and if so, how much uncompensated work was performed by the Plaintiff. After an extensive review of the record evidence, including third-party records of Plaintiff's other employment, the parties agreed that Plaintiff's overtime estimations in his FLSA interrogatories were unlikely to be substantiated at trial and that in actuality they would have been roughly 1/3 of the amount he initially claimed. This case would have been expensive to litigate through trial, particularly given the disputed issues and amount of electronic discovery, all of which would have been unlikely to definitively resolve this ...

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