By Carlyn Kolker
NEW YORK, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Cases brought under the Fair
Labor Standards Act can be settled without a judge's approval,
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan of Brooklyn concluded in an
opinion on Friday.
The determination was made in a ruling in a case brought by
an employee of a private tutoring company who advised the court
that she was settling her claim for unpaid wages before the
defendant even entered an appearance in the case.
The judge's conclusion is a reversal of longstanding
judicial convention of approving settlements in cases brought
under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Cogan noted. "Although I
have ruled to the contrary in the past, I have come around to
the view that the procedure of a court requiring approval before
it permits parties to voluntarily dismiss an FLSA action is
incorrect," he wrote. "I believe the parties can voluntarily
dismiss an FLSA case without judicial approval - if the
defendant is willing to undertake the risk of doing so."
Judges typically approve FLSA settlements because they have
relied on two Supreme Court decisions that spell out that an
employer who settles a claim brought under the FLSA without the
approval of either the Department of Labor or a court could face
another lawsuit by the same employee, Cogan noted. But, the
judge said, the practice "runs afoul" of rule 41 of the federal
rules of civil procedure, which allows plaintiffs to halt a case
for any reason.
In another recent case involving a FLSA claim, Cogan said,
neither plaintiff nor defendant showed up for a fairness hearing
over a settlement.
"I could have unleashed some of the tools that are
available to compel compliance with court orders, but ultimately
concluded that there was little point," Cogan wrote. Both sides
had little money and had satisfactorily settled the case.
"Ratcheting up the legal process to achieve some sort of
Platonic form of the ideal of judicial vindication did not seem
necessary to accomplish any purpose under the FLSA," Cogan
Abdul Hassan, the attorney representing plaintiff Donna
Picerni, could not be reached for comment. No attorney entered
an appearance for the tutoring company.
While Cogan's conclusion isn't binding on other judges in
the district, it may compel them to follow suit, said Stephen
Hans, an attorney in Long Island City, New York, who represents
management in wage disputes. Hans hailed the decision as the
removal of an obstacle from the settlement of wage-and-hour
cases, which, he says, are "spreading like amoebas" in federal
"I see it as one less hurdle you have to go through. Judges
routinely don't alter (settlements)," he said. "Why cost my
client more time to go down to the courthouse to get the judge's
seal of approval?" Hans said.
The case is Donna Picerni v. Bilingual SEIT Preschool Inc,
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No.
For plaintiff: Abdul Hassan.
For Bilingual SEIT & Preschool Inc.: No appearance entered.
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