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Lejeaun v. Waste Connections of Louisiana, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

October 10, 2017

CELESTINE LEJEAUN, ET AL.
v.
WASTE CONNECTIONS OF LOUISIANA, INC., ET AL

          SECTION "B"(3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before the Court is Defendant Progressive Waste Solutions of LA, Inc.'s “Motion for Partial Summary Judgment to Enforce Compromise” (Rec. Doc. 14), Plaintiff's “Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment to Enforce Compromise” (Rec. Doc. 21), and Defendant's “Reply Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment to Enforce Compromise” (Rec. Doc. 25). For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that the Defendant Progressive Waste Solutions of LA, Inc.'s “Motion for Partial Summary Judgment to Enforce Compromise” (Rec. Doc. 14) is GRANTED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Celestine[1] is one of three named plaintiffs bringing forth allegations regarding an employment and wage dispute against Defendants, Waste Connections of Louisiana Inc. (“Defendant WCL”), Progressive Waste Solutions of LA Inc. (“Defendant PWS”), Waste Connections U.S. Inc. (“Defendant WCUS”), and IESI LA Landfill Corporation (“Defendant IESI”), collectively referred to herein as “Defendants.” Plaintiffs bring their claims on behalf of themselves and a class of similarly situated individuals.

         The instant motion for Partial Summary Judgment, submitted by Defendant PWS seeks dismissal of Plaintiff Celestine's claims based on prior agreement entered between Plaintiff Celestine and Defendant PWS. Rec. Docs. 14-2, 21-1. The uncontested facts of this case provide that Plaintiff Celestine was hired by Defendant PWS as a driver in August 2015. Id. In early 2016, Plaintiff Celestine made a complaint about the calculation of his wages. Rec. Doc. 23-2 at 5. Following his complaint, investigation revealed errors in Plaintiff's compensation rates. Id. Plaintiff Celestine was compensated for $3, 095.20 in underpaid wages. Rec. Docs. 14-2, 23-2. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff Celestine was terminated by Defendant PWS.

         Upon termination, Plaintiff Celestine signed a “Release of All Claims” (the “Release”) and an “Acknowledgment” of payments he received in backpay. Rec. Docs. 14-7 and 14-4. According to the Release, in consideration of execution Plaintiff Celestine was to be paid $550.80, in addition to any payments/benefits he might otherwise be entitled to receive. Id. The instant motion by Defendant PWS asserts that Plaintiff Celestine should be dismissed as a party to this lawsuit as a result of language in the above-mentioned Release and the Acknowledgment that allegedly bar his claims and acknowledge full compensation. Rec. Doc. 14. In the alternative, the instant motion requests Plaintiff Celestine not be allowed to bring forth his claims on behalf of a putative class in accordance with the terms of the Release. Id.

         Defendant PWS asserts that Plaintiff Celestine knowingly and voluntarily executed a valid and enforceable release of the claims alleged in the Complaint. Rec. Doc. 14-1. Defendant PWS further argues that in the alternative, Plaintiff Celestine has waived and relinquished his right to serve in a representative capacity as to the claims alleged in the Complaint. Id.

         Plaintiff Celestine contends that he did not waive his claim under the Fair Labor Standard Act (“FLSA”), and requests this Court allow him to proceed individually to pursue his FLSA overtime claim. Rec. Doc. 21. Plaintiff also seeks a delayed ruling under Rule 56(d). Id.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court should view all facts and evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. United Fire & Cas. Co. v. Hixson Bros. Inc., 453 F.3d 283, 285 (5th Cir. 2006). Mere conclusory allegations are insufficient to defeat summary judgment. Eason v. Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1325 (5th Cir. 1996).

         Public policy favors enforcement of privately-settled employment claims, only where the employee's release of claims is “knowing” and “voluntary.” See Williams v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 23 F.3d 930, 935 (5th Cir. 1994)(citing Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 527 (1974)). Determining what constitutes knowing and voluntary requires analysis under the “totality of the circumstances.” O'Hare v. Glob. Nat. Res., Inc., 898 F.2d 1015, 1017 (5th Cir. 1990). The Fifth Circuit has held the following, non-exhaustive, list of factors are relevant in such determination of voluntariness:

(1) the plaintiff's education and business experience, (2) the amount of time the plaintiff had possession of or access to the agreement before signing it, (3) the role of plaintiff in deciding the terms of the agreement, (4) the clarity of the agreement, (5) whether the plaintiff was represented by or consulted with an attorney, and (6) whether the consideration given in exchange for the waiver exceeds employee benefits to which the employee was already entitled by contract or law.

Id. Also added to the above list is whether or not an employer encourages an employee to consult an attorney, and whether the employee had opportunity to do so. Bormann v. AT & T Commc'ns, Inc., 875 F.2d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 1989).

         In regards to the FLSA specifically, the general rule establishes that FLSA claims cannot be waived; however, excepted from this are unsupervised settlements that are reached due to a bona fide FLSA dispute over hours worked or compensation owed. Bodle v. TXL Mortg. Corp., 788 F.3d 159, 165 (5th Cir. 2015). The Fifth Circuit has reasoned that such an exception does not undermine the purpose of the FLSA because employees do not waive their claims through some sort of bargain but instead receive compensation for the disputed hours.See generally Martin v. Spring Break '83 Prods., L.L.C.,688 F.3d 247, 256 (5th Cir. 2012). For example, in Martinez, the court held that the plaintiff's acceptance of a check for $1, 000 for settlement of all overtime claims at issue ...


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