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Serna v. Board of County Commissioners of Rio Arriba County

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 3, 2018

JOSEPH SERNA, SANTANA BUSTAMANTE, GABRIEL M. BLEA, RONNIE CARILLO, JR., ALIFONSO DELEON, GERMAN JACQUEZ-TORRES, GUY J. JORDAN, DAVID WAYNE JOURDAN, ADELINE MARTINEZ, ANTHONY MARTINEZ, CHRISTOPHER M. MARTINEZ, ROMAN MARTINEZ, KENNETH MERCURE, LEA PACHECO, ELIZABETH RAMIREZ, ROSE RASCON and CHRIS VALDEZ, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF RIO ARRIBA COUNTY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. BRACK SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' and Defendant's Amended Joint Motion to Dismiss Case with Prejudice (Doc. 74). The parties seek dismissal of the case as all 18[1] named plaintiffs have now entered into individual private settlement agreements with Defendant. Having reviewed the facts of the case and relevant law, and noting that the parties are both represented by counsel and have moved jointly to dismiss, the Court will grant the motion to dismiss and vacate the trial currently set for October 22, 2018 through November 2, 2018.

         I. Background

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs are current and former detention recruits, detention officers, and detention supervisors (collectively, “Correctional Officers”) employed by Defendant at the Rio Arriba County Detention Center. (Doc. 1 (Compl.) ¶ 8.) They brought this action alleging Defendant violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by undercompensating Plaintiffs for time actually worked and withholding certain overtime compensation required by law. (Id. at ¶ 2; ¶¶ 18-25.) On August 13, 2018, the Court granted in part Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 69). Following that Order and Plaintiffs' amended Response (Doc. 70), the only remaining disputed issues were Defendant's alleged violations of the FLSA by (1) failing to compensate Plaintiffs for pre-shift time spent in briefings; and (2) failing to adequately compensate employees who engaged in “shift swapping” and were instructed not to clock in during shifts they were covering for other employees. (See Docs. 69 at 8-13; 70 at 3-4.)

         On August 22, 2018, the parties filed a joint motion to dismiss the claims of 12 of the 18 Plaintiffs after they accepted settlement offers from Defendant. (Doc. 71.) On September 20, 2018, the parties filed an amended joint motion to dismiss the case with prejudice, as all 18 Plaintiffs have now reached settlement agreements with Defendant. (Doc. 74.) “All eighteen (18) Plaintiffs have now executed a Settlement Agreement and General Complete Release . . . contemplated to provide, inter alia, (1) a complete release of all claims Plaintiffs may have against Defendant, including claims under [FLSA] and (2) dismissal of the lawsuit with prejudice.” (Doc. 74 at 2.) The question before the Court is whether the FLSA waiver in the parties' private settlement agreement is enforceable without Court or Department of Labor approval.

         B. Relevant Facts

         Plaintiffs' duties as Correctional Officers include patrolling, inspecting, and otherwise ensuring the secure and orderly detention of inmates at the detention facility. (See Compl. at ¶ 8.) Correctional Officers usually work 12-hour shifts, and Plaintiffs allege that they were required to report approximately 15 minutes prior to each shift's scheduled start time to participate in critical briefings on facility and inmate issues, but were not compensated for that time. (See Docs. 64-A at 2; 64-B at 2; 64-C at 2; 64-D at 2; 64-E at 2 (affidavits from Correctional Officers testifying about the requirement to arrive 15 minutes early).) Though the parties dispute how early Plaintiffs were expected to arrive and whether early arrival was truly “required, ” Defendant has acknowledged that Plaintiffs were at least “supposed” to arrive “a few minutes” before their scheduled shift. (See Docs. 44-1 at 2; 65 at 2.)

         In its prior order, the Court denied Defendant's motion for summary judgment as to pre-shift time in large part because there are so many facts in dispute. (See Doc. 69.) As the Court described, inconsistencies abound in how Correctional Officers' time was tracked and recorded:

The County's timekeeping system registered an employee's “actual” clock-in and clock-out time as well as the “official” clock-in and clock-out time used for paying wages. The “actual” time registered often differed from the “official” time. For example, detention officer Santana Bustamante's timesheets reflect that she actually clocked in at 7:29 p.m. on September 21, 2015, but her official clock-in time showed 8:00 p.m. Aside from the mismatched actual and official times, the accuracy of the recorded actual time is also in doubt. When Bustamante inspected the time-in and time-out for November 26, 2017, the display on the timekeeper showed Bustamante's time-in as 7:30 p.m. The timesheets produced in discovery, on the other hand, show Bustamante's actual time-in as 7:27 p.m. and official time-in as 8:00 p.m. This means the time displayed on the physical timekeeper differed from both the actual and official time on the timesheets.

(Id. at 4-5 (all internal citations omitted).)

         Plaintiffs also allege that they would often cover shifts at the Detention Center for other employees, and were instructed not to clock in when covering shifts, but rather to seek payment or reciprocal shift coverage from the employee they were covering for. (See Docs. 44 at 23 (citing answers to Defendant's First Set of Interrogatories); 70 at 2.) Plaintiffs allege Defendant should have paid them for those swapped shifts, and that sometimes the employee that was supposed to cover for them in exchange would not show up, leaving them completely uncompensated for the original shift they covered. (See Doc. 70 at 2-3.) The exact dates and lengths of the unpaid or uncompensated swapped shifts do not appear in the record. (See Id. at 3 (“the County is not made aware when an employee covers another employees' [sic] shift”).) Defendant argues that 29 U.S.C. § 207(p)(3) governs shift substitutions under the FLSA, and provides that when an employee substitutes for another employee's scheduled shift, that added shift is excluded from the calculation of overtime compensation.[2] (Doc. 70 at 3.)

         II. Legal Standard for Settlements under the FLSA

          The FLSA was enacted in 1938 to protect vulnerable employees from “substandard wages and excessive hours which endangered the national health and well-being.” See Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O'Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 706 (1945). At its core, the FLSA seeks to protect workers by: (1) mandating minimum wages to ensure that individual employees receive “a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, ” id. (internal quotation omitted); see also 29 U.S.C. ยง 206; and (2) facilitating shorter workdays by requiring employers to pay increased ...


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