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Courts split over sealing overtime-pay settlements

A Norfolk U.S. District Court has refused to seal an overtime-pay settlement even though the employer argues disclosure of the settlement could prompt other claimants to overvalue their individual cases.

The ruling comes in Baker v. Dolgencorp Inc., Virginia’s newest case arising from an earlier collective suit that pitted 2,400 employees against Dollar General Store in claims for more pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The original collective action was decertified and cases were parceled out to federal district courts across the country. Nearly 800 cases still are pending in 37 federal districts.

Parties typically are free to reach private settlements, but by statute, courts are required to scrutinize FLSA settlements for fairness. When plaintiffs in Abingdon U.S. District Court settled their FLSA claims against Dolgencorp last year, U.S. District Judge James P. Jones initially denied a motion to seal, but later sealed the matter for two years.

Although the 11 plaintiffs in the Norfolk case joined the motion to seal, Senior U.S. District Henry Coke Morgan Jr. denied the motion. Morgan said simply keeping these 11 individual settlement agreements confidential from other plaintiffs would not prevent a “similar individualized settlement process” from happening in other pending cases.
By Deborah Elkins

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