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Torres v. Washrite Plus, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 1, 2016

RUDIS TORRES et al., Plaintiffs
v.
WASHRITE PLUS, INC. et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Rudis Torres and Milton Torres (“Plaintiffs”) have brought this suit against Washrite Plus, Inc., Wash Rite, Inc., and corporate owners and operators Edward Walters and Julie Walters (“Defendants”), alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL”), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-401 et seq., and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (“MWPCL”), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-501 et seq. The parties have now reached a settlement agreement, which they jointly request the Court to approve.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS the Joint Motion for Approval of FLSA Settlement, ECF No. 10, and DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE all counts of the Complaint as to all Defendants.

         I.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Defendants Washrite Plus, Inc. (“WRP”) and Wash Rite, Inc. (“WR”) are Maryland corporations that provide power washing and cleaning services. They are primarily owned and operated by Defendants Edward Walters and Julie Walters. Compl. ¶¶ 2-6, ECF No. 1. According to the Complaint, Plaintiffs Rudis Torres and Milton Torres were employed by the Defendants from 2008 until about June 2015. Id. ¶ 17.

         The Complaint submits that WRP and WR “operate together as a ‘single enterprise employer’ presenting itself to the public as an inter-related power washing and cleaning and related services entity.” Id. ¶ 5. The purpose of having two corporations, Plaintiffs allege, was to “shield[] liability and attempt[] to mitigate payroll and overtime obligations, ” but WRP and WR nonetheless “use a common bookkeeper and payroll system” that “serves substantially the same function for all Defendants.” Id. ¶¶ 6, 9. Both WRP and WR are purportedly subject to common control and operation by the Walters-the primary officers and owners of the two corporations-who were also responsible for setting Plaintiffs’ hours and pay rate, for hiring and firing decisions, and general decisions of day-to-day operations. Id. ¶¶ 4, 7.

         Plaintiffs allege that throughout their employment, they regularly worked over 40 hours per week, but they never received the overtime rate of one-and-one-half times their regular rate for hours worked in excess of 40 hours. Id. ¶¶ 18-22, 29-30. While Defendants assert that Plaintiffs were exempt employees not entitled to overtime wages, Plaintiffs maintain that they had the work responsibilities of non-exempt power washers and that they performed only general labor work duties. See Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement at 2-4, ECF No. 12.

         On this basis, Plaintiffs initiated this suit on September 30, 2015, bringing claims pursuant to: (1) in Count 1, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq.; (2) in Count 2, the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL”), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-401 et seq.; and (3) in Count 3, the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (“MWPCL”), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-501 et seq. In their claims under the FLSA, Plaintiffs seek all unpaid overtime wages, as well as an equal amount of liquidated damages (plus interest), and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. See Compl. ¶ 32.

         After Defendants filed an Answer on November 6, 2015, the parties engaged in settlement discussions and eventually reached a settlement agreement. On April 29, 2016, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Approval of FLSA Settlement, which is now pending before the Court. ECF No. 10. On July 12, 2016, the Court requested additional briefing as to the reasonableness of Plaintiffs’ proposed attorneys’ fees, and, in response, Plaintiffs filed a Declaration from counsel and detailed billing records. ECF No. 12.

         The Court now considers the parties’ Joint Motion for Approval of FLSA Settlement.

         II.

         Standard of Review

         Congress enacted the FLSA to protect workers from the poor wages and long hours that may result from significant inequalities in bargaining power between employers and employees. To that end, the statute’s provisions are mandatory and generally not subject to bargaining, waiver, or modification by contract or settlement. See Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O’Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 706 (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 ...


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