United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
BRUCE A. SENIOR, Plaintiff,
ROBERT NEWLIN AIRPORT, INC. and CARL BAILEY, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. CHAMBERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Bruce A. Senior instituted this action on October 24, 2018,
raising claims against Defendants Robert Newlon Airport, Inc.
(“RNA”) and Carl Bailey for unpaid wages and
unpaid overtime wages. See generally Compl., ECF No.
1. Count One of Plaintiff' Complaint alleges violations
of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29
U.S.C. § 201 et seq., while Count Two alleges
violations of the West Virginia Minimum Wage and Maximum
Hours Act (“WVMWMHA”), W.Va. Code § 21-5C-1
et seq. Id. at 4-5. On August 19, 2019,
Plaintiff and Defendants indicated they had reached a
settlement on both claims. See Joint Mot. for Court
Approval of Settlement, ECF No. 16. Upon review of the
agreement provided by both parties, the Court
APPROVES the proposed Release and Settlement
Agreement, GRANTS the Joint Motion for Court
Approval of Settlement, and DISMISSES this
action WITH PREJUDICE for the reasons
was hired by Defendants in October 2015 as a bartender at the
Fly In Café, a restaurant located on the grounds of a
small airfield owned and operated by Defendant RNA in Lesage,
West Virginia. Compl., at 2-3. In addition to
bartending, Plaintiff performed “other miscellaneous
tasks such as serving customers, preparing the restaurant
before opening, and cleaning the restaurant after
closing.” Id. at 3. Plaintiff alleges that he
worked approximately thirty-five hours per week at the Fly In
Café, but that he was paid no hourly wages until a
time clock was installed for employees in March 2017.
Id. At this point, Plaintiff claims he began
receiving the tipped employee minimum wage of $2.13 but that
he still “continued to earn less than the lawfully
required minimum wage.” Id. Plaintiff also
estimates that he worked approximately five hours of unpaid
overtime over the course of ten assorted weeks. Id.
at 4. Plaintiff's employment with Defendant RNA was
terminated in May 2018. Id.
October 2018, Plaintiff initiated an action to recover unpaid
wages and overtime wages against Defendant RNA and Defendant
Carl Bailey, the President and principal owner of RNA.
See generally Compl. Invoking this Court's
federal question jurisdiction, Plaintiff raised claims under
the FLSA. Id. at 4. Drawing upon the same set of
facts, Plaintiff also asserted claims under the WVMWMHA
pursuant to this Court's supplemental jurisdiction.
Id. at 5. Following the filing of Defendants'
Answer, “the parties engaged in both formal and
informal discovery and a substantial amount of information
was exchanged” between them. Joint Mem. in Support
of Joint Mot. for Court Approval of Settlement, ECF No.
17, at 2. In February 2019, Defendants filed a Motion for
Partial Dismissal and for Partial Summary Judgment that
argued “a significant portion of [Plaintiff's]
unpaid wages fell outside of the two-year statute of
limitations provided by” the FLSA and WVMWMHA.
Id. In his Response, Plaintiff asserted that
Defendants' “actions were ‘willful' and
therefore subject to the three-year statute of limitations
under” the FLSA. Id. Defendants also argued
that FLSA coverage was not established, a contention
Plaintiff countered by arguing that “material issues of
facts currently preclude[d] a definitive determination as to
whether . . . coverage existed.” Id. While
Defendants' dispositive motion was still pending, the
parties reached a settlement agreement and filed a Joint
Motion for Court Approval of Settlement. See Joint Mot.
for Court Approval of Settlement, at 1. The motion is
ripe for review, and a hearing is unnecessary because the
issues have been squarely presented in the filings. See
generally Joint Mem. in Support of Joint Mot. for Court
Approval of Settlement. As such, the Court will consider
the parties' settlement agreement below.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
FLSA was enacted, in part, to “protect certain groups
of the population from substandard wages and excessive hours
which endangered the national health and well-being and the
free flow of goods in interstate commerce.”
Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O'Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 706
(1945). Consequently, “the statute's provisions are
mandatory and generally are not subject to bargaining,
waiver, or modification by contract or settlement.”
Duprey v. Scotts Co. LLC, 30 F.Supp.3d 404, 407 (D.
Md. 2014). The FLSA therefore represents a departure from the
general “public policy favoring voluntary resolution of
disputes, ” which typically permits private parties to
settle claims without court approval. Digital Equip.
Corp. v. Desktop Direct, Inc., 511 U.S. 863, 881 (1994).
should approve joint settlement agreements of FLSA claims
“if a proposed settlement reflects a reasonable
compromise over contested issues.” Lomascolo v.
Parsons Brinckerhoff, Inc., No. 1:08cv1210, 2009 WL
3094955, at *8 (E.D. Va. Sept. 28, 2009) (internal quotations
omitted). More to the point, “where there is an
assurance of an adversarial context and where [an] employee
is represented by an attorney who can protect [his] rights
under the statute, [a] settlement will be approved.”
Brockman v. Keystone Newport News, LLC, No.
4:15-CV-74, 2018 WL 4956514, at *2 (E.D. Va. Oct. 12, 2018)
(citing Duprey, 30 F.Supp.3d at 408) (internal
quotations omitted). This relatively forgiving standard
recognizes the uncertainty of the litigation process, as well
as factual disagreements over “the number of hours
worked by the plaintiff, the plaintiff's status as an
exempt employee, or the defendant's status as a covered
employer.” See Lopez v. NTI, LLC, 784
F.Supp.2d 471, 478 (D. Md. 2010) (quoting Bonetti v.
Embarq Mgmt. Co., 715 F.Supp.2d 1222, 1227 (M.D. Fla.
Fourth Circuit has not yet addressed whether district courts
should employ a particular set of factors in analyzing the
content of FLSA settlement agreements. See Duprey,
30 F.Supp.3d at 407-08. Nevertheless, “district courts
in this circuit typically employ the considerations set forth
by the Eleventh Circuit in Lynn's Food
Stores.” Saman v. LBDP, Inc., No.
DKC-12-1083, 2013 WL 2949047, at *3 (D. Md. June 13, 2013).
Under Lynn's Food Stores, a court must determine
whether a joint settlement of FLSA claims “is a fair
and reasonable resolution of a bona fide dispute over FLSA
provisions.” Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United
States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1355 (11th Cir. 1982). If an
agreement contains a clause on attorney's fees, courts
will also consider whether the award is reasonable. See
Brockman, 2018 WL 4956514, at *2. The Court will
consider these factors separately below.
Bona Fide Dispute
existence of a bona fide dispute under the FLSA may be
discerned from a review of the parties' filings, paying
particular attention to the Complaint, Answer, and factual
and legal assertions contained in the parties' Joint
Motion for Court Approval of Settlement. See Saman v.
LBDP, Inc., No. DKC 12-1083, 2013 WL 949047, at *3 (D.
Md. June 13, 2013) (citing Lomascolo, 2009 WL
3094955, at *16-17). A brief review of relevant provisions of
the FLSA makes plain the existence of several bona fide
disputes. The FLSA requires employers to pay covered workers
a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. 29 U.S.C. §
206(a)(1)(C). An exception for “tipped” employees
permits employers to pay wages of $2.13 per hour to workers
who regularly earn more than $30 in tips each month, so long
as the balance of tips raises their total pay to at least
$7.25 per hour. See 29 U.S.C. § 203(m).
Furthermore, the FLSA requires that covered employees be paid
“at a rate not less than one and one-half times [their]
regular rate” for any hours over forty hours in a given
workweek. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).
the parties' filings leave little doubt that these
provisions of the FLSA are in dispute. Plaintiff squarely
alleges that Defendants failed to pay him “the legally
required hourly minimum wage for all hours worked” for
a period of two years, and that they also failed to pay
overtime wages “at a rate of one and one-half times
[his] regular rate for all hours worked in excess of [forty]
hours in a work week pursuant to the FLSA.”
Compl., at 4. Defendants, on the other hand, assert
several defenses to the applicability of the FLSA to the
instant case. See Answer, at 7 (“Defendants
are not subject to the provisions of FLSA because RNA is not
a commercial enterprise as contemplated by the FLSA . . . .
FLSA is inapplicable because Plaintiff was not an employee
whose work affects interstate commerce.”). In addition
to their legal contention over FLSA coverage, Defendants
argue that a significant portion of Plaintiff's factual
claims is time-barred by the FLSA's two-year statute of
limitations. See Joint Mem. in Support of Joint Mot. for
Court Approval of Settlement, at 4. In response,
Plaintiff argues that Defendants' alleged violations of
the FLSA were “willful” and thus subject to a
three-year statute of limitations that would preserve many of
his claims. Id. at 2. In light of these evident
disagreements, the Court finds that several bona fide
disputes exist under the FLSA.
Fair and ...