From Casetext: Smarter Legal Research

Odom v. FreedomRoads, LLC

United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia
Jul 17, 2023
5:23-CV-247 (CAR) (M.D. Ga. Jul. 17, 2023)


5:23-CV-247 (CAR)


JEANIE ODOM, Plaintiff, v. FREEDOMROADS, LLC (d/b/a Camping World RV Sales), Defendant.



Plaintiff Jeanie Odom brings this action against her former employer, Defendant Freedomroads, LLC (d/b/a Camping World RV Sales), for failure to properly compensate her in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. The parties have now agreed to settle Plaintiff's claims and are seeking permission to file, under seal, their forthcoming joint motion to approve the proposed settlement agreement. For the following reasons, the parties' Joint Motion for Leave to File Joint Motion to Approve Settlement Agreement under Seal [Doc. 3] is DENIED.

Ordinarily, a court does not need to approve a settlement agreement. In FLSA cases, however, a court is required to review and approve a settlement agreement as fair, and the settlement agreement becomes part of the judicial record. There is a common-law presumption that judicial records are public documents. “The strength of the presumption of openness falls along a continuum, with the presumption being stronger for documents that ‘directly affect an adjudication' than for documents, such as certain discovery materials, that ‘come within a court's purview solely to insure their irrelevance.'”

See Dees v. Hydradry, Inc., 706 F.Supp.2d 1227, 1246 (M.D. Fla. 2010) (citations omitted).

Nixon v. Warner Commc'n, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978); Chicago Tribune Co. v. Bridgestone/Firestone, 263 F.3d 1304, 1311 (11th Cir. 2001).

Hogan v. Allstate Beverage Co., 821 F.Supp.2d 1274, 1283 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 15, 2011) (citing United States v. Amodeo, 71 F.3d 1044, 1046 (2d Cir. 1995), and Chicago Tribune, 263 F.3d at 1311)).

The presumption of openness is strongest when the “right” at issue is one of a “private-public character,” as the Supreme Court has described employee rights under the FLSA. This character is based on Congress's intent

Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O'Neill, 324 U.S. 697, 708 (1945).

to protect certain groups of the population from substandard wages and excessive hours which endangered the national health and well-being and the free flow of goods in interstate commerce. The statute was a recognition of the fact that due to the unequal bargaining power as between employer and employee, certain segments of the population required federal compulsory legislation to prevent private contracts on their part which endangered national health and efficiency and as a result the free movement of goods in interstate commerce. To accomplish this purpose, standards of minimum wages and maximum hours were provided.”

Id. at 706-07 (footnotes omitted).

District courts in this Circuit have widely held that, “[a]bsent some compelling reason, the sealing from public scrutiny of FLSA agreements between employers and their employees would thwart the public's independent interest in assuring that employees' wages are fair and thus do not endanger ‘the national health and well-being.'” A request to seal must be justified and carefully balanced with the public's right of access to a judicial proceeding, which is “an essential component of our system of justice [and] instrumental in securing the integrity of the process.”

Stalnaker v. Novar Corp., 293 F.Supp.2d 1260 (M.D. Ala. 2003) (quoting Brooklyn Savings Bank, 324 U.S. at 708); accord Webb v. CVS Caremark Corp., Case No. 5:11-cv-106 CAR, 2011 WL 6743284 at *2 (M.D. Ga. Dec. 23, 2011); Dees, 706 F.Supp.2d at 1245 (“Sealing an FLSA settlement agreement between an employer and employee, reviewing the agreement in camera, or reviewing the agreement at a hearing without the agreement's appearing in the record (in any event precluding other employees' and the public's access to, and knowledge of, the agreement) thwarts Congress's intent both to advance employees' awareness of their FLSA rights and to ensure pervasive implementation of the FLSA in the workplace.”).

Chicago Tribune, 263 F.3d at 1311; see also Pressure Enter. Co. v. Superior Court of California, 464 U.S. 501, 510 (1984) (before sealing a document, the district court must identify and articulate “an overriding interest based on findings that [a seal] is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. The interest is to be articulated along with findings specific enough that a reviewing court can determine whether the [sealing] order was properly entered.”).

Here, the proposed settlement agreement both “directly affects adjudication” and involves rights of “public-private character,” and thus weighs strongly against sealing. Moreover, the parties assert no reason for sealing other than to “maintain the privacy of their settlement.” This generalized concern fails to outweigh the strong presumption of openness and the public's independent interest in access to the judicial record of this FLSA dispute. Thus, the request to seal is DENIED.

Motion, p. 3 [Doc. 3].

In reviewing a settlement of a FLSA private claim, this Court must “scrutinize[] the settlement for fairness,” and determine that the settlement is a “fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide dispute over FLSA provisions.”Although the Court makes no findings at this time about the parties' settlement agreement, the Court notes that it is unlikely to approve any confidentiality provision contained in the agreement, as the district courts in this Circuit generally disfavor confidentiality provisions in FLSA settlement agreements.Similarly, courts in this Circuit tend to disfavor “pervasive releases” involving a full release of any and all claims, including claims not under the FLSA.“Although inconsequential in the typical civil case (for which settlement requires no judicial review), an employer is not entitled to use a FLSA claim (a matter arising from the employer's failing to comply with the FLSA) to leverage a release from liability unconnected to the FLSA.” Indeed, “a pervasive release in a FLSA settlement confers an uncompensated, unevaluated, and unfair benefit on the employer.”

Lynn's Food Stores, 679 F.2d at 1353, 1355.

See, e.g., Dees, 706 F.Supp.2d at 1242 (“[A] confidentiality provision in a FLSA settlement agreement both contravenes the legislative purpose of the FLSA and undermines the Department of Labor's regulatory effort to notify employees of their FLSA rights.”; see also Glass v. Krishna Krupa, LLC, 2010 WL 4064017 (S.D. Ala. Oct. 15, 2010) (following Dees); Poulin, 2010 WL 1813497 (same).

See Moreno v. Regions Bank, 729 F.Supp.2d 1346, 1348 (M.D. Fla. 2010).

Moreno, 729 F.Supp.2d at 1351.

Id. at 1352.


The parties' Joint Motion for Leave to File Joint Motion to Approve Settlement Agreement under Seal [Doc. 3] is DENIED.


Summaries of

Odom v. FreedomRoads, LLC

United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia
Jul 17, 2023
5:23-CV-247 (CAR) (M.D. Ga. Jul. 17, 2023)
Case details for

Odom v. FreedomRoads, LLC

Case Details

Full title:JEANIE ODOM, Plaintiff, v. FREEDOMROADS, LLC (d/b/a Camping World RV…

Court:United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia

Date published: Jul 17, 2023


5:23-CV-247 (CAR) (M.D. Ga. Jul. 17, 2023)