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Barbecho v. M.A. Angeliades, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 12, 2017

LUIS BARBECHO, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, et al ., Plaintiffs,
v.
M.A. ANGELIADES, INC., et al ., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HENRY PITMAN United States Magistrate Judge

         This is a collective action brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (the "FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., and the New York Labor Law (the "NYLL"). Plaintiffs have also asserted a breach of contract claim. The matter is currently before me on the parties' application to approve the settlements agreed to by eight of the more than 33 plaintiffs (Docket Item ("D.I.") 134).[1] The parties have consented to my exercising plenary jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

         The action arises out of work performed by plaintiffs in connection with contracts between defendants and various public agencies, including the New York City Transit Authority (the "NYCTA"), the New York City Housing Authority, the New York City Department of Correction and the New York City School Construction Authority. Plaintiffs allege that they worked for defendants as carpenters and laborers on these projects. The contracts required defendants to pay plaintiffs a prevailing wage rate and required that plaintiffs be paid at least one and one-half times their regular rate for work in excess of forty hours per week and for weekend work. Plaintiffs allege that they worked Monday through Friday for forty hours and sometimes were required to work an additional sixteen to twenty-four hours on weekends. Plaintiffs allege that they were paid less than their regular hourly rate for the weekend work.

         In 2009, several of the defendants were indicted for falsifying business records and defrauding employees by underpaying them on four NYCTA projects. Several of the defendants pleaded guilty to some of the charges, and a restitution fund was established to provide compensation to those workers who were underpaid. The restitution fund, however, was limited to the projects that were the subject of the indictment. Additionally, in order to receive payment from the restitution fund, a worker was required to release all claims against the defendants. Accordingly, many of defendants' employees did not seek payment from the fund.

         Defendants concede that almost all plaintiffs are owed some wages. However, the parties vigorously dispute how much is owed. In support of their contention that plaintiffs' claims for unpaid wages after 2008 are exaggerated, defendants note that commencing in 2008, an independent monitor was installed to oversee defendants' payroll practices and that in 2008 training sessions for defendants' employees were conducted at which the employees were advised of their rights under the FLSA and NYLL. Defendants also note that the NYCTA conducted an audit to determine what wages were owed to employees who worked on NYCTA projects, and that audit disclosed unpaid wages in amounts far smaller than those claimed by plaintiffs. As additional evidence that plaintiffs' claims are exaggerated, defendants cite plaintiffs' interrogatory answers which defendants argue are inconsistent with plaintiffs' present claims. Defendants also cite worksite access records maintained in connection with several of the projects at issue; for security reasons, sign-in/sign-out logs were maintained at several of the work sites at issue. Defendants claim that these records demonstrate that some of the plaintiffs could not have worked all the hours that they claim.

         On November 10, 2015, the late Honorable Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, United States District Judge, granted in part and denied in part defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. Specifically, Judge Cedarbaum granted defendants' motion to dismiss the NYLL claims but denied the motion to dismiss the breach of contract claims.[2] Almazo v. M.A. Angeliades, Inc., 11 Civ. 1717 (MGC), 2015 WL 6965116 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 10, 2015) (Cedarbaum, D.J.), reconsideration denied, 2016 WL 5719748 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2016) (Pitman, M.J.).

         Subsequent to Judge Cedarbaum's decision, I began conducting day-long settlement conferences. Conferences were held on January 15, 22, March 29, and May 16, 2016. The claims of 21 plaintiffs were settled at the conferences held in January and March. After negotiations, four other plaintiffs agreed to settle their claims either at or after the May 16 conference. Finally, in August 2016 and November 2016, the following eight plaintiffs agreed to settle their claims:

Plaintiff

Amount Claimed

Settlement Amount

Juan Siavichay

$86, 242.00

$18, 000.00

Luis Terra

$172, 531.28

$25, 000.00

Jose Barbecho

$168, 391.86

$25, 000.00

Luis Barbecho

$209, 236.32

$50, 000.00

Efrain Fernandez

$108, 216.00

$25, 000.00

Wilson Ortiz

$130, 945.92

$45, 000.00

Crecensiano Ruiz

$152, 785.44

$75, 000.00

Miguel Yuquilima[3]

$185, 401.92

$45, 000.00

         The parties have also agreed that defendants will pay an additional 1/3 of the total settlement amount of the August 2016 agreement and an additional 1/6 of the total settlement amount of the November 2016 agreement as attorneys' fees and costs.

         I refused to approve earlier drafts of the settlement agreements because they each had a general release that ran only in favor of defendants (D.I. 133). I ordered the parties either to more narrowly define what was being released or to submit a memorandum of law explaining why the proposed settlements should have been approved in their present forms; the parties opted for the former. Under the revised settlement agreements, plaintiffs are releasing their claims brought in this lawsuit, all claims for unpaid overtime pursuant to the FLSA, all claims for retaliation pursuant to the FLSA and all correlative common law claims associated with nonpayment or underpayment of wages, including any third-party beneficiary or breach of contract claims.

         Counsel for both sides have requested that I approve these settlements so that payments to the plaintiffs who have settled can be made promptly.

Court approval of an FLSA settlement is appropriate "when [the settlement] [is] reached as a result of contested litigation to resolve bona fide disputes." Johnson v. Brennan, No. 10 Civ. 4712, 2011 WL 4357376, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 16, 2011). "If the proposed settlement reflects a reasonable compromise over contested issues, the court should approve the settlement." Id. (citing Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1353 n.8 (11th Cir. 1982)).

Agudelo v. E & D LLC, 12 Civ. 960 (HB), 2013 WL 1401887 at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 4, 2013) (Baer, D.J.) (alterations in original). "Generally, there is a strong presumption in favor of finding a settlement fair, [because] the Court is generally not in as good a position as the parties to determine the reasonableness of an FLSA settlement." Lliguichuzhca v. Cinema 60, LLC, 948 F.Supp.2d 362, 365 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (Gorenstein, M.J.) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Typically, courts regard the adversarial nature of a litigated FLSA case to be an adequate indicator of the fairness of the settlement." Beckman v. KeyBank, N.A., 293 F.R.D. 467, 476 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (Ellis, M.J.), citing Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, supra, 679 F.2d at 1353-54. The presumption of fairness in this case is bolstered by the caliber of the party's attorneys. Based upon their performance at the settlement conferences and in subsequent court conferences, it is clear to me that all parties are represented by counsel who are extremely knowledgeable regarding all issues in the case and who are well suited to assess the risks of litigation and the benefits of the proposed settlements.

         In Wolinsky v. Scholastic Inc., 900 F.Supp.2d 332, 335 (S.D.N.Y. 2012), the Honorable Jesse M. Furman, United States District Judge, identified five factors that are relevant ...


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