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Emrani v. Fairfield Family Care, LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

November 21, 2017

CURLETA EMRANI Plaintiff,
v.
FAIRFIELD FAMILY CARE, LLC, Defendant.

          RULING ON PARTIES' JOINT MOTION FOR SETTLEMENT APPROVAL

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Curleta Emrani (“Plaintiff”) filed this lawsuit in state court, seeking compensation on four separate counts: failure to pay owed wages, minimum wage, or overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”); retaliation under FLSA; nonpayment of wages in violation of Connecticut's wage and hour laws; and unjust enrichment. See Complaint, ECF No. 1-2. After Fairfield Family Care LLC (“Defendant”) removed the case to this Court, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Settlement Approval on August 17, 2017. J. Mot. for Settlement Approval, ECF No. 12.

         The motion will be DENIED the motion without prejudice for the reasons stated below.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Plaintiff worked for Fairfield Family Care as a live-in caregiver. Compl. ¶¶ 3-5. She alleges that the Defendant failed to account for all the amount of time she worked, only paying her a per diem of $100. Id. at ¶ 6. She alleges that, after the Department of Labor had determined her wages had been improperly withheld, the Defendant prepared false statements regarding the amount of hours she had worked. Id. at ¶¶ 9-12. She allegedly refused to sign and she was then terminated. She filed this lawsuit in state court seeking lost wages, damages, costs, attorney fees. Defendant then removed to this Court and filed an answer the Complaint on June 21, 2018. ECF No. 11.

         On August 17, 2017, the parties submitted a proposed settlement agreement that would provide plaintiff with $17, 500 inclusive of attorney fees. J. Mot. for Settlement Approval, ECF No. 12. The parties represent that they have a “bona fide disagreement” on several fronts and they have a “mutual desire to resolve their dispute without further litigation.” Id. at ¶ 3. They certify that the agreement:

(a) is fair to all parties; (b) reasonably resolves a bona fide disagreement between the parties with regard to the merits of Plaintiff's claims; and (c) demonstrates a good faith intention by the parties that Plaintiff's claims for liability and damages be fully and finally resolved and not re-litigated in whole or in part at any point in the future.

Id. at ¶ 6. Attached to their motion, the parties included a copy of the proposed settlement agreement. Settlement Agreement, ECF No. 12-1, J. Mot. for Settlement Aproval, Ex. A (“Settlement Agreement”).

         II. Discussion

         The Fair Labor Standards Act “is a uniquely protective statute.” Cheeks v. Freeport Pancake House, Inc., 796 F.3d 199, 206 (2d. Cir. 2015). In light of these protections, courts in the Second Circuit are required to approve settlement agreements where the parties seek dismissal with prejudice of FLSA claims. Id. at 206 (“Thus, Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) stipulated dismissals settling FLSA claims with prejudice require the approval of the district court or the DOL to take effect.”).

         After reviewing the proposed Settlement Agreement between the parties in this case, the Court has two main concerns in light of Cheeks. First, the agreement contains a broad release clause. Second, the agreement contains a broad class waiver. The Court is therefore unable to approve the proposed settlement without modifications.

         A. Release Terms

         Courts within the Second Circuit have examined broad release clauses with skepticism, especially when the terms go beyond the types of claims raised an initial complaint. See, e.g., Thallapaka v. Sheridan Hotel Assocs. LLC, No. 15CV1321, 2015 WL 5148867, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 17, 2015) (“This Court will not sanction releases in FLSA cases where the parties purport to waive ‘practically any possible claim against the defendants, including unknown claims and claims that have no relationship whatsoever to wage-and-hour issue.') (quoting Camacho v. Ess-a-Bagel, Inc., 14 Civ. 2592(LAK), 2015 WL 129723, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 9, 2015)); Olano v. Designs by RJR, Ltd., No. 17CV5703, 2017 WL 4460771, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 6, 2017) (rejecting “general release of all past, current, or future claims, whether known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected, relating to any matter up to the execution date of the Settlement Agreement, which is not limited to claims related to this action or Plaintiffs employment with Defendants.”)

         The Settlement Agreement at issue here includes a broad release section. Settlement Agreement ¶ 4(a). Ms. Emrani “knowingly and voluntarily release and forever discharges, to the fullest extent permitted by law” Defendant and its agents “of any and from all claims, known or unknown, asserted or unasserted: that she has or may have against Releasees ...


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