A federal judge who balked at a request to seal a settlement has decided the parties have good cause, after all, to keep it confidential, at least for a while.
In late September, Abingdon U.S. District Judge James P. Jones refused to approve two settlement agreements in an overtime pay case because the parties insisted on confidentiality.
Cynthia Murphy and Teresa Hale worked for Dollar General Stores. They sued Dolgencorp Inc., alleging they did not fall within the executive exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In an FLSA case, the public’s right of access to judicial records and documents applies with particular force to settlement agreements, Jones wrote in Murphy v. Dolgencorp.
But on Oct. 28, Jones agreed to file and seal the settlement agreements in the Murphy case for two years.
There are approximately 800 similar cases pending against the defendant in the Abingdon court and other federal courts around the nation, in which all of the plaintiffs are represented by the same counsel, Jones wrote. Keeping the settlement confidential will allow continued settlement negotiations to “concentrate on the specific merits of each individual case.” Jones said he assumed the clients understand and accept that their attorneys cannot tell them the terms of other settlements, but “multiple representation has the likely advantage to the client of a better informed and more efficient advocate.”
By Deborah Elkins