Florida employment lawyers know that it can be difficult to get FLSA settlements approved in the Middle District of Florida, particularly before at least one judge. Such scrutiny may be coming to the Southern District too, as, in a decision issued yesterday, Magistrate Judge Hopkins has refused to approve a general release as part of the settlement.
A little review - when an employee sues a company, and the company offers to pay money to settle the case, it is good business to require that the employee enter into a general release as part of the settlement. The last thing you want as a business owner (or an attorney representing a business) is for the employee to be able to turn around the day after the case settles and sue the company for some claim unrelated to the first lawsuit. General releases are, and always have been, part of the settlement process for employment cases.
But, that may not be true for FLSA cases. Magistrate Judge Hopkins refused to approve the parties' agreed-upon release language "because it is a general and very pervasive release of non-FLSA claims, which has no place in an FLSA settlement." He also refused to approve "non-disparagement, non-disclosure, and non-incitement of claims provisions, which are contrary to the public remedial purpose of FLSA." Finally, he required that the plaintiff's attorney submit billing records to justify the fee request, which is not always required.
In short, it may have just gotten tougher to settle FLSA cases in the Southern District.