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Gaborik v. Taylor-Ray

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

November 30, 2019

PATRICK J. GABORIK, Plaintiff,
v.
KATHERINE TAYLOR-RAY, NAPLES TRUCK RENTAL LLC, AA TRUCK RENTAL LLC and LEHIGH ACRES TRUCK RENTAL LLC, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MAC R. MCCOY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the parties' Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement Agreement, filed on October 9, 2019. (Doc. 53). The parties previously filed their Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement Agreement on September 24, 2019. (Doc. 51). Upon preliminary review, it was apparent that only Defendants had executed the settlement agreement in the first filing. (Doc. 51-1 at 5-6). Therefore, the Undersigned ordered the parties to supplement their Joint Motion with a copy of the fully executed settlement agreement. (Doc. 52). Accordingly, the parties filed their fully executed Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement Agreement signed by all parties. (Doc. 53-1 at 5-6). Plaintiff Patrick Gaborik and Defendants Katherine Taylor-Ray, Naples Truck Rental, LLC, AA Truck Rental, LLC, and Lehigh Acres Truck Rental, LLC request the Court approve the terms of their proposed settlement of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) claims in this case. The proposed Settlement Agreement is attached to the parties' Motion. (Doc. 53-1). After careful review of the parties' Motion 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.

         SUMMARY OF THE ALLEGATIONS AND ISSUES

         A brief summary of the allegations and issues in this case is helpful. Defendant Ms. Ray-Taylor managed Lehigh Acres Truck Rental (“Lehigh Acres”), AA Truck Rental (“AA”), and Naples Truck Rental (“Naples”). (Doc. 19 at 2). Plaintiff “worked at all three locations when necessary.” (Doc. 15 at 5). Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges “Defendant[s] willfully and maliciously failed to pay Plaintiff his lawfully earned overtime wages.” (Id. at 6).

         The parties dispute Plaintiff's employment status and whether he is exempt from the FLSA's overtime requirements. Plaintiff argues he “sometimes had the title of manager at the Naples location” but he “did not participate in and management [sic] decisions, and was only given that title to avoid paying overtime wages.” (Id. at 7). While the Complaint fails to set forth the exact number of hours Defendants allegedly owe Plaintiff for overtime wages, “in an effort to settle this matter Plaintiff's counsel delivered to Defendants a demand letter requesting $50, 000.00 in unpaid wages and attorney's fees.” (Doc. 15 at 8). Defendants deny these allegations and assert several Affirmative Defenses. (Doc. 19). The Undersigned now turns to the proposed settlement.

         ANALYSIS OF THE PROPOSED SETTLEMENT

         I. There Is a Bona Fide Dispute.

         As a threshold matter, the Undersigned finds that a bona fide dispute exists between the parties. The Joint Motion explains:

Plaintiff was the only employee at the site, and therefore ran the site on his own. Plaintiff was, at all times, paid a salary and treated as an exempt employee. Plaintiff alleges that he was not an exempt employee, and that he was therefore entitled to ...

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