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Russell v. Broder & Orland, LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 22, 2018

KATHLEEN RUSSELL Plaintiff,
v.
BRODER & ORLAND, LLC, CAROLE TOPOL ORLAND Defendants.

          RULING ON MOTION FOR SETTLEMENT APPROVAL

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Kathleen Russell (“Plaintiff“) filed this lawsuit alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461, and state law. Compl., ECF No. 1. The parties now renew a request for settlement approval after this Court expressed concerns with their initial agreement and the parties subsequently agreed to an addendum that modified several terms. See Defs. Renewed Mot. for Approval of Settlement (“Def. Mot.”), ECF No. 28.; see also Ruling on Parties' Joint Motion for Settlement Approval (“November Ruling”), ECF no. 27 (denying approval of initial settlement agreement); Addendum to Settlement Agreement in Support of the Joint Mot. for Approval of Settlement Agreement and Dismissal With Prejudice (“Addendum”), ECF No. 51.

         For the reasons stated below, the joint motion is GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Ms. Russell is a Connecticut resident. Compl. ¶ 2. Broder & Orland, LLC, a law firm, is located in Westport, Connecticut, and Carole Topol Orland is a lawyer and founding member of the firm. Id. ¶¶ 3-4.

         A. Factual Allegations

         Ms. Russell alleges she was hired by Broder & Orland, first as a temporary receptionist and then as an assistant to Attorney Topol Orland, Compl. ¶ 7, and was paid as a salaried employee. Id. ¶ 9. She allegedly routinely worked forty-eight hours or more per week, regularly working from 8:30 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. and through lunch. Id. ¶¶ 12-14.

         She maintains that Attorney Topol Orland knew Ms. Russell regularly worked and answered phone calls beyond her allotted hours. Id. ¶¶ 14, 16. She also claims to have received e-mails from the firm after her regular work hours, requiring her to respond even if she was at home. Id. ¶ 17. She allegedly did not receive compensation for any of this extra work, and received an annual salary, at the time of her termination, of $55, 000. Id. ¶¶ 9, 22.

         Broder & Orland ended Ms. Russell's employment on November 4, 2016. Ms. Russell allegedly was told that “the firm had grown and their needs had changed.” Id. ¶ 21. She alleges that, because of the way in which the firm's benefit plan was structured, “[t]erminating Russell allowed Broder to increase its senior partners' contributions into the Defined-Benefit plan without having to pay Russell the same benefits.” Id. ¶ 22.

         B. Procedural History

         On July 24, 2017, Ms. Russell filed the Complaint in this lawsuit. Count One alleges that the Defendants violated 29 U.S.C. § 207 “by employing Russell for a workweek longer than forty hours without compensating Russell for her employment in excess of forty hours at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which Russell was employed, and further did not pay Russell for all hours worked.” Compl. at 4. Counts Two and Three allege violations of 29 U.S.C. § 1140. Compl. at 5. Counts Four and Five allege violations of Connecticut wage and hour laws. Id. at 5-6.

         Following a settlement conference, the parties settled and the Court closed the case. See Minute Entry, ECF No. 16; Order Dismissing Case, ECF No. 17. The parties then filed a joint motion for settlement approval, and Ms. Russell filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of Counts Two and Three. See Joint Mot. for Approval of Settlement, ECF No. 19; Pl. Notice of Voluntary Dismissal, ECF No. 20.

         The settlement required Defendants to pay $30, 000 to Kathleen Russell and an additional $5, 000 to her attorney, for a total settlement of $35, 000. See Settlement Agreement at 1, ECF No. 26. The parties agreed that the agreement should not “be deemed or construed at any time for any purpose as an admission by either party of any liability or unlawful conduct of any kind.” Id. at 4. The agreement also included an integration clause. Id. at 5.

         In exchange, “Russell . . . knowingly and voluntarily releases and forever discharges, to the full extent permitted by law, Broder & Orland” from a broad variety of claims. Id. at 2. These claims included:

[A]ny alleged violation of FLSA, REZA, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Older Workers Benefits Protection Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and. Medical Leave Act; Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, any other federal, state or local civil or human rights law or any other local, state or federal law, regulation or ordinance; any public policy, contract, tort, or common law; any allegation for costs, fees, or other expenses including attorneys' fees any other federal, state or local civil or human rights law or any other local, state or federal law, regulation or ordinance; any public policy, contract, tort, or common law; or any allegation for costs, fees, or other expenses including ...

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