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Birdie v. Brandi's Hope Community Services, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division

August 1, 2018

RENZA BIRDIE PLAINTIFF
v.
BRANDI'S HOPE COMMUNITY SERVICES, LLC and DANNY COWART DEFENDANTS

          ORDER AND OPINION

          DAVID BRAMLETTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Renza Birdie and Defendants Brandi's Hope Community Services, LLC and Danny Cowart move the Court to approve their settlement and dismiss this Fair Labor Standards Act suit. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         This dispute arises from Brandi's Hope's alleged failure to pay overtime to employees who worked more than 40 hours per week.

         Brandi's Hope operates residential care facilities for disabled adults. (Doc. 1, ¶ 17) Brandi's Hope maintains its corporate headquarters in Magee, Mississippi. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10) Danny Cowart is Brandi's Hope's owner and chief executive officer. (Doc. 1, ¶ 11) Renza Birdie worked for Brandi's Hope as a “direct support professional” from November 2014 to May 2015. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 9, 15) As a direct support professional, Birdie worked 17-hour shifts -- from 3:00 P.M. to 8:00 A.M. -- caring for disabled adults. (Doc. 1, ¶ 19)

         In February 2017, Birdie sued Cowart and Brandi's Hope under Section 216(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. (Doc. 1, ¶ 1) Birdie alleged that she and similarly situated direct support professionals were not compensated for working overtime. (Doc. 1, ¶ 29) In particular, Birdie alleged that a Brandi's Hope policy that required direct support professionals to clock out between 10:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M. deprived her of 8 hours of compensation per shift. (Doc. 1, ¶ 21)

         In April 2017, Brandi's Hope and Cowart answered Birdie's complaint, denied liability, and raised 21 affirmative defenses. (Doc. 6) One defense asserted that Brandi's Hope and Cowart were not liable because they relied on the United States Department of Labor's guidance in deciding not to compensate Birdie for the hours she worked between 10:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M. (Doc. 6, p. 3) Another defense asserted that even if Birdie proved liability, she could recover only two years of compensation. (Doc. 6, p. 3)

         In June 2017, the Court conditionally certified a collective action class consisting of direct support professionals employed by Brandi's Hope who stayed with a client overnight at any time since February 24, 2014. (Doc. 20, p. 12)

         One year later, in June 2018, the parties agreed to a settlement during a conference before Magistrate Judge Michael T. Parker. (Minute entry of 6/15/18) Magistrate Judge Parker ordered the parties to submit the proposed settlement to this Court for approval. (Minute entry of 6/15/18; text-only order of 7/2/18) The parties submitted the proposed settlement to the Court for in camera review on July 11, 2018.

         The parties now move the Court to approve their proposed settlement and dismiss Birdie's unpaid overtime compensation claims with prejudice. (Doc. 110)

         II. Compromise of Fair Labor Standards Act Claims

         The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay overtime to covered employees who work more than 40 hours in a week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a). An employer that fails to pay overtime to a covered employee who works more than 40 hours in a week is liable for the amount of unpaid overtime compensation and liquidated damages. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

         FLSA substantive rights cannot be waived. Martin v. Spring Break '83 Prods., L.L.C., 688 F.3d 247, 257 (5th Cir. 2012). Most courts hold that “in the absence of supervision by the Department of Labor or scrutiny from a court, a settlement of an FLSA claim is prohibited.” Bodle v. TXL Mortg. Corp., x 788 F.3d 159, 164 (5th Cir. 2015) (citing Lynn's Food Stores v. Dep't of Labor, 679 F.2d 1350, 1353 (11th Cir. 1982)).[1]

         The Court will approve an FLSA settlement if it (1) resolves a bona fide FLSA dispute and (2) is fair and reasonable. See, e.g., Black v. DMNO, LLC, Civ. A. No. 16-CV-2708, 2018 WL 2299055, at *4 (E.D. La. May 21, 2018); Koviach v. Crescent City ...


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