United States District Court, N.D. Ohio
ERIN KIS, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, et al., Plaintiffs,
COVELLI ENTERPRISES, INC., Defendant.
OPINION & ORDER [RESOLVING DOC. 212]
S. GWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) collective
action, nearly five hundred current and former Panera Bread
assistant managers seek unpaid overtime wages from Covelli
Enterprises, Inc. The parties now propose a
the proposed settlement, Defendant Covelli will pay up to $3,
725, 000 to settle the collective action's
claims. The parties also ask the Court to
conditionally certify a related Ohio wage law class action
for settlement purposes. Covelli will pay up to $900, 000 to
settle the class action's claims.
ask the Court to: (i) approve the collective action
settlement, (ii) conditionally certify the class for
settlement, (iii) preliminarily approve the class settlement,
(iv) appoint Plaintiffs' counsel as class counsel, and
(v) issue the proposed class and collective action
notices. For the following reasons, the Court
GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion.
The FLSA Collective Action Settlement
circuit, whether an FLSA collective action settlement even
requires court approval is an open question, and the other
circuits are split. However, this Court has previously
required it. This comports with the FLSA's
animating assumption: unequal bargaining power between
employers and employees requires government
deciding whether to approve the settlement, the Court
considers: (i) the likelihood of success on the merits, (ii)
the complexity, expense, and duration of litigation, (iii)
the amount of discovery completed, (iv) the risk of fraud or
collusion, and (v) the public interest. Taken together,
the factors favor approval.
likelihood of success on the merits is the most important
factor,  and is used to ensure that the
settlement's value fairly reflects the case's
strength. Here, Plaintiffs would likely succeed.
The primary question in this case is whether Defendant
properly classified Plaintiffs as overtime-exempt executives.
Plaintiffs have submitted dozens of affidavits showing that
their jobs primarily involved manual labor and customer
service,  placing them outside the
exemption. Additionally, assistant manager training
uniformity and corporate micromanagement makes this job duty
evidence broadly applicable to all Plaintiffs.
the settlement, Plaintiff will receive 83% of the estimated
total potential award. This properly reflects the case's
strength while accounting for the unpredictability of jury
trials and the challenges in presenting a case through
Court next considers the complexity, expense, and duration of
the litigation (the more complex the case, the more
settlement is favored). One on hand, the proposed settlement
comes on the eve of trial. Thus, most of the time and expense
to be spent on this case has already been spent. However, the
parties would still face two complex jury trials (damages and
liability) involving dozens of witnesses and a likely
appeal. This factor is thus mixed.
the Court examines the amount of discovery completed to
ensure the settlement is well-informed. The parties
here conducted extensive discovery, deposing fourteen
witnesses, issuing hundreds of document requests and
interrogatories, serving third-party subpoenas, and attending
seven discovery conferences.
there is little risk that fraud or collusion produced the
settlement. The parties vigorously litigated this case for
more than a year, fighting over certification, discovery, and
the trial plan. The record is littered with failed
settlement attempts. And, importantly, they reached this
settlement through a mediator.
the Court considers the public interest, which is mixed. On
one hand, the public interest favors settling large complex
actions to preserve judicial resources.However, the
public interest also favors enforcing the FLSA. Conspicuously
absent from the settlement is any requirement that Covelli
change its overtime practices.
the factors, the Court approves the collective action
Conditional Class Action Certification
Plaintiffs ask the Court to conditionally certify a class for
settlement composed of:
All Assistant Managers who work or have worked for Defendant
at any time from January 9, 2016 until the date of final
judgment in this action, who Defendant classified as exempt
class certification, Plaintiffs must show that: (i) the class
is too numerous to proceed through joinder, (ii) there are
common questions of law or fact, (iii) the representative
parties' claims or defenses are typical of the class, and
(iv) the representative parties will adequately protect the
class interests. Also, because Plaintiffs seek Rule
23(b)(3) certification, they must show that common questions
predominate over individualized questions and class
adjudication is superior to other methods.
with an estimated 614 members, the class easily clears
for common questions of law or fact predominate, the
questions subject to generalized proof must outweigh those
requiring individualized proof. Here, the Plaintiffs
worked the same job, for the same employer, classified under
the same overtime exemption. Further, the evidence uncovered
in the FLSA collective action indicates that they received
the same training and likely had similar job
the representative parties bring the same claims, arising out
of the same policy, as the whole class. Typicality is
met. Similarly, because the
representatives' claims are typical of the class, and
because there are no conflicts of interests, they will
adequately protect the class's interests.
Court also considers whether a class action is the superior
method of adjudication. In doing so it considers whether the
class will promote efficiency, minimize expense, and achieve
decisional uniformity between similarly situated
Plaintiffs seek certification only for settlement purposes,
there will be no difficulty in managing the
class. Moreover, there are no alternative
methods that could resolve these cases as efficiently,
cheaply, or uniformly. Thus, the Court conditionally
certifies the sought class for settlement purposes.
counsel must fairly and adequately represent the interests of
the class. In considering whom to appoint, the
Court must consider: (i) counsel's efforts in identifying
and investigating potential claims, (ii) counsel's
experiences in handling class actions and similar claims,
(iii) counsel's ...