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Galeas v. Staff Pro, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 12, 2018


         SECTION: “I” (5)



         Before the Court is the motion for attorneys' fees filed by Plaintiff, Maria Galeas (“Galeas”). (Rec. doc. 27). Galeas sued the Defendants, Staff Pro, LLC (“Staff Pro”) and Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. (“Marriott”) on January 3, 2018, claiming underpayment of regular and overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 207 and 206. (Rec. doc. 1). She settled her claims against both Defendants for $1, 500 during a settlement conference held on June 1, 2018.[1] (Rec. doc. 25). The matter of her entitlement to attorneys' fees[2] was reserved for determination by the Court. (Id.). The District Judge referred that question to the undersigned, and I have received briefing and held a hearing on Galeas' motion. (Rec. docs. 29, 30, 39, 40).


         A. Relevant Background

         In her initial Complaint, Galeas alleged (among other things) that:

Defendants regularly fail to pay Plaintiff for all hours she worked in a work week. On average, Defendants fail to pay Plaintiff for at least four hours of regular and/or overtime hours per week.
Defendants willfully violated Plaintiff's rights under the FLSA because Defendants knew or showed reckless disregard for the fact that their compensation practices violated the FLSA. Defendants were and are aware of the custom and practice of overtime pay from their experience and expertise in the industry in which they work.

(Rec. doc. 1 at p. 4).

         Plaintiff also alleged that the Defendants were joint employers and sought the certification of a class:

consisting of all current and former employees of the Defendants who are or have been employed by Defendants during the three years immediately preceding the filing of this suit as hourly or non-exempt employees and who, during that period, failed to receive compensation for all regular and/or overtime hours worked in a work week.

(Id. at p. 5).

         On behalf of herself and the alleged “FLSA Class, ” Plaintiff prayed that the Court issue an order:

a. Certifying this case as a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and ordering that notice of the lawsuit be issued in an effective manner to the FLSA Class so that similarly situated employees may promptly file consent forms and join this action, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b);
b. Entering judgment in the amount of all unpaid regular and overtime wages due and owing to the Plaintiff as well as all applicable liquidated damages;
c. Declaring that Defendants' conduct violated the FLSA;
d. Enjoining Defendants from violating the FLSA's overtime and minimum wage provisions;
e. Awarding Plaintiff her reasonable attorneys' fees and costs of this action;
f. Awarding pre-judgment and post-judgment interest on all monetary amounts awarded in this action; and
g. Awarding such other general and equitable relief as this Court deems equitable and just.

(Id. at p. 6).

         Practically speaking, Galeas achieved none of these objectives. Rather, she settled her case for $1, 500 at a settlement conference presided over by the undersigned that took less than two hours to complete.[3] The path to that settlement included no written discovery requests or responses, no depositions, the production of no admissible evidence supporting any claim, no motion practice, and no effort to conditionally certify a collective class. Really, no substantive work was undertaken by Plaintiff's counsel over the case's six-month lifespan, save for attendance at a couple of de rigueur status conferences, which fortunately resulted in the District Judge ordering the parties to attend our single settlement conference, during which the case was settled.[4] The nature of that settlement agreement was memorialized jointly by the parties in their “Motion to Approve FLSA Settlement”:

Defendants deny the allegations in the Lawsuit and deny all liability and damages of any kind to anyone with respect to the alleged facts or causes of action asserted in the Lawsuit; nonetheless, without admitting or conceding any liability or damages, and solely to avoid the burden, expense and uncertainty of continuing to litigate Plaintiff's claims, the Parties have agreed to settle Plaintiff's claims in the Lawsuit on the terms and conditions set forth in a Settlement Agreement and Release of Claims (“Settlement Agreement”) signed by all parties on August 15, 2018.

(Rec. doc. 41-1). This verbiage is entirely consistent with Defendants' argument in their opposition to the present motion that they agreed to the $1, 500 settlement largely because:

(a) They did not have to admit liability [because neither was liable];
(b) Galeas, through Applicant, agreed to completely release any and all claims that were or could have been brought arising out of her employment;
(c) Galeas, through Applicant, promised confidentiality;
(d) Galeas, through Applicant, promised not to seek re-employment;[5] and
(e) Galeas, through Applicant, agreed to dismiss the above captioned action.

(Rec doc. 30 at pp. 1-2).

         Defendants point to these facts as support for their argument that Galeas should not be considered a prevailing party, despite having received a monetary settlement. In the alternative, they argue that any fee award should be ...

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