United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
For Robert Duprey, Plaintiff: Jason Daniel Friedman, Philip B Zipin, The Zipin Law Firm LLC, Silver Spring, MD.
For The Scotts Company LLC, Defendant: Alexandra M Romero, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hunton and Williams LLP, Washington, DC; Ryan A Glasgow, PRO HAC VICE, Hunton and Williams LLP, Richmond, VA.
Paul W. Grimm, United States District Judge.
Robert Duprey filed this action against his former employer (" Scotts" ) seeking damages for its alleged failure to pay proper overtime wages under the FLSA and two related Maryland statutes. After the employer answered the complaint, but before discovery commenced, the parties jointly moved for court approval of the settlement agreement they have executed. I find the net amount Duprey will receive to be fair and reasonable in light of the facts of this case and therefore approve the settlement. Additionally, I approve the attorneys' fee award under a lodestar calculation even though the award was calculated using a contingent-fee arrangement.
Duprey worked for an affiliate of Scotts as a lawn technician and territorial service representative beginning in February of 2008. Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 2. He was paid between $14 and $23 per hour and alleges that he " typically and customarily worked more than forty (40) hours per week." Id. ¶ 10. In the Complaint, Duprey claims he was never paid the proper rate of overtime for 440.78 overtime hours worked and claims that Scotts owes him $11,927.69 in back pay. Id. ¶ ¶ 12, 14-15.
Consequently, Duprey filed this three-count Complaint, which was removed to this Court from the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County on November 20, 2013. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. The Complaint alleges violations the Fair Labor Standards Act (" FLSA" ), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § § 201-219, the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (" MWHL" ), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § § 3-401 to 3-430, and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (" MWPCL" ), § § 3-501 to 3-509. Scotts filed a motion to dismiss the MWPCL claim five days after removal, ECF No. 10, together with a supporting memorandum (" Def.'s Mem." ), ECF No.
10-1, and answered the remaining counts the following day, ECF No. 13.
The parties twice requested additional time for Duprey's response to allow them to discuss settlement, which I granted, ECF Nos. 19 & 20. Then, on January 23, 2014, the parties notified the Court that a settlement had been reached in principle, ECF No. 21, and filed this Joint Motion to Approve Settlement about three weeks later, ECF No. 23, together with a joint memorandum in support of the motion (" Joint Mem." ), ECF No. 23-1. The motion is ripe for resolution and a hearing is unnecessary because the issues adequately are presented in the filings. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. Jul. 2011).
The Settlement Agreement provides that Duprey releases Scotts for all claims related to his employment, except workers' compensation, Settlement Agreement § 4, Joint Mem. Ex. A, ECF No. 23-2, and that Duprey agrees he is not a prevailing party for purposes of attorneys' fees or costs under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), id. § 3. The $7,500 global settlement splits into (1) $2,250 to Duprey for back pay, (2) $2,250 to Duprey for liquidated damages, and (3) $3,000 to Duprey's lawyers in attorneys' fees. Settlement Agreement § 2. The attorneys' fee was calculated by taking forty percent of the global settlement pursuant to a contingent-fee arraignment. See Joint Mem. 5.
On May 12, 2014, I held a conference call on the record to resolve questions about the details of the settlement and the parties' positions with regard to the legal disputes. The parties stipulated that the amount sought in the Complaint was shown through informal discovery to be incorrect. Instead, if Duprey prevailed at trial, his recovery would be no more than $7,200. Further, Duprey's counsel acknowledged the strength of Scotts's legal argument that a significant portion of his client's time would be calculated using the fluctuating workweek method, and that if Scotts prevailed on that argument, the recovery would be limited only to partial back pay for about one workweek. This argument, according to Duprey, was the primary motivator for the ultimate settlement amount.
A. FLSA Settlement Generally
Congress enacted the FLSA to protect workers from the poor wages and long hours that can result from significant inequalities in bargaining power between employers and employees. To that end, the statute's provisions are mandatory and generally are not subject to bargaining, waiver, or modification by contract or settlement. See Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O'Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 706, 65 S.Ct. 895, 89 L.Ed. 1296 (1945). Court-approved settlement is an exception to that rule, " provided that the settlement reflects a 'reasonable compromise of disputed issues' rather than 'a mere waiver of statutory rights brought about by an employer's overreaching.'" Saman v. LBDP, ...