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Portillo v. Intipuqueno Restaurant

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 28, 2019



          Paul W. Grimm, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Marina Portillo claims that she worked for Intipuqueno Restaurant and its owner-operator Telbis Elizabeth Garcia (together, "Intipuqueno)) for more than a year, but was not paid for the overtime hours she regularly worked, did not receive any compensation other than tips, and was not paid "in full at least twice each month." Compl., ECF NO.1. According to Portillo, her employment ended when she was fired in retaliation for an epileptic seizure that she had while at work. Id. ¶¶ 51-56. Thereafter, she filed suit against Intipuqueno on December 22, 205,, bringing claims of discrimination in violation of federal, state, and local law, as well as claims of violations of federal and state wage payment laws.[1]

         On August 21, 2018, the parties jointly moved for court approval of the settlement agreement they have executed. Jt. Mot. & Mem., ECF Nos. 60, 60-1. I find the net settlement amount of $78, 000, comprised of $16, 262.20 in wages, $3, 825.00 in compensatory damages, and $57, 912.40 in attorneys' fees, to be fair and reasonable in light of the facts of this case.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Portillo worked as a server at Intipuqueno in Silver Spring, Maryland from January 2013 to June 29, 2014. Compl. ¶ 14. Portillo alleges that she worked 62 hours per week for 70 weeks in a 78-week period and did not work during the other 8 weeks. PL's Disclosure of Damages 2, ECF No. 38.[2] She claims that she allegedly was discharged for having suffered an epileptic seizure at work. Compl. ¶ 56. For the entirety of the 78 weeks that she was employed, Portillo alleges that she never received a paycheck from Defendant and that her sole compensation was the tips she received from customers. Id. ¶ 40-41.

         The Settlement Agreement "release[s] and forever discharge[s] the Employers [Intipuqueno Restaurant and Ms. Garcia] ... of and from the Lawsuit and any and all actions with respect to Employee's tenure of employment at Intipuqueno Restaurant, at any time on or before the Effective Date." Agr. ¶ 5(a), ECF No. 60-2. The $78, 000 settlement is comprised of $16, 262.60 in wages, $3, 825.00 in compensatory damages for Counts 1-3, and $57, 912.40 in attorneys' fees. Id.¶2.


         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, 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 overreaching.'" Saman v. LBDP, Inc., No. DKC-12-1083, 2013 WL 2949047, at *2 (D. Md. June 13, 2013) (quoting Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1354 (1Ith Cir. 1982)).

         Although the Fourth Circuit has not addressed the factors to be considered in approving FLSA settlements, "district courts in this circuit typically employ the considerations set forth by the Eleventh Circuit in Lynn's Food Stores." Id. at *3 (citing Hoffman v. First Student, Inc., No. WDQ-06-1882, 2010 WL 1176641, at *2 (D. Md. Mar. 23, 2010); Lopez v. NT!, LLC, 748 F.Supp.2d 471, 478 (D. Md. 2010)). The settlement must "reflect a fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide dispute over FLSA provisions," which includes findings with regard to (1) whether there are FLSA issues actually in dispute, (2) the fairness and reasonableness of the settlement in light of the relevant factors from Rule 23, and (3) the reasonableness of the attorneys' fees, if included in the agreement. Id. (citing Lynn's Food Stores, 679 F.2d at 1355; Lomascolo v. Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., No. 08-13102 2009 WL 3094955, at *10 (E.D. Va. Sept. 28, 2009); Lane v. Ko-Me, LLC, No. DKC-10-2261, 2011 WL 3880427, at *2-3 (D. Md. Aug. 31, 2011)). These factors are most likely to be satisfied where there is an "assurance of an adversarial context" and the employee is "represented by an attorney who can protect [his] rights under the statute." Lynn's Food Stores, 679 F.2d at 1354.

         b. Bona Fide Dispute

         In deciding whether a bona fide dispute exists as to a defendant's liability under the FLSA, courts examine the pleadings in the case, along with the representations and recitals in the proposed settlement agreement. See Lomascolo, 2009 WL 3094955, at *16-17. The Joint Motion and Memorandum makes clear that several issues are in bona fide dispute. Most importantly, the parties disagree about the number of hours Plaintiff worked per week, the number of total weeks that she worked, and the wage rate at which Plaintiff should be compensated. Jt. Mem. 3-4.

         c. Fairness & ...

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