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James Williams, et al v. Aramark Sports

September 8, 2011

JAMES WILLIAMS, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ARAMARK SPORTS, LLC, ET AL., DEFENDANTS. JAMES WILLIAMS, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ARAMARK SPORTS, LLC, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pratter, J.

MEMORANDUM

In these two substantially identical putative class actions, James Williams, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated as food, beverage and service employees assigned to three Philadelphia sports arenas, has sued their former employer, Aramark,*fn1 pursuant to the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act ("MWA"), the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law ("WPCL"), and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") for damages that resulted from Aramark's alleged failure to properly calculate wages and overtime pay. The Court granted preliminary settlement approval on March 31, 2011. After sending notice of the settlement to class members, the parties have now filed a motion for final approval of the settlement.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Mr. Williams asserts that he and other Aramark service employees working at three Philadelphia arenas were "regularly" deprived of wages, due to the fact that Aramark allegedly

(1) required food and beverage service employees to work through lunch breaks and rest periods without pay; (2) failed to accurately credit employees for work performed at different arenas during the same pay period, improperly reducing their overtime pay; and (3) failed to ensure that employees were receiving proper gratuities while working in tipped positions. He also claims that Aramark failed to maintain accurate records of hours worked and of wage calculations.

Mr. Williams originally filed his case in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Aramark removed the case to this Court in April, 2010, and, in addition to moving to remand the case, Mr. Williams filed a second case, alleging the same facts but adding an FLSA claim. Defendants moved to dismiss both cases, and those motions, along with Mr. Williams's motion to remand, are still pending. Before the Court decided any of the outstanding motions and based on extensive discussions, negotiations, and analysis, the parties conducted an extensive all-day mediation with the Honorable Diane M. Welsh (Ret.). The mediation was attended by counsel for all parties and two high-ranking ARAMARK attorneys. Judge Welsh assisted the parties in negotiating both the monetary value of a settlement and the terms and conditions which would apply in facilitating the settlement. Thereafter, the parties filed a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement.

The Court held a preliminary settlement hearing in September, 2010, at which plaintiffs' counsel in a third case, King v. Aramark, Civil Action No. 10-2116, raised several objections to the settlement. The Court instructed counsel to meet and discuss the issues, which resulted in a revised class notice and a revised settlement agreement.*fn2 On March 31, 2011, the Court granted preliminary approval of the settlement. On May 16, 2011, the Court amended its Order granting preliminary approval of the settlement at the parties' request to revise the class definition. Class members were notified of the settlement, the parties filed a motion for final approval of the settlement, and the Court held a final fairness hearing on September 6, 2011.

PROPOSED SETTLEMENT

The settlement Class preliminarily approved by the Court is:

All current and former non-administrative employees of ARAMARK Sports, LLC, ARAMARK Corporation, or any other ARAMARK entity, who were classified as hourly and/or non-exempt by ARAMARK and who, according to ARAMARK's time and payroll records, worked at Citizens Bank Park ("CBP"), the Wells Fargo Center, f/k/a Wachovia Center ("Wachovia"), the Wachovia Spectrum ("Spectrum"), and/or Lincoln Financial Field ("LFF") (collectively, "Sports Complex") and received compensation for such work, for more than one Qualifying Workweek (as defined by the Stipulation) between March 5, 2007 and the Preliminary Approval Date, or the estates or other judicially-appointed representatives of such persons. The Class excludes the named plaintiffs in the action captioned King, et al. v. ARAMARK Sports, LLC, et al. (E.D. Pa.; Civil Action No. 2:10-cv-02116-GP). The Class also excludes any current or former employees to the extent that they have already released their claims, e.g., current or former employees who have already released all claims falling under the definition of "Released Federal Law Claims" are excluded from the Class. To the extent that current or former employees have released their claims, but worked for weeks that would otherwise fall under the definition of Qualifying Workweeks, any Qualifying Workweeks after the effective date of the prior release of claims are not excluded.

The parties have arrived at a settlement in the amount of $587,500. This settlement includes attorneys' fees and costs,*fn3 as well as capped administrative costs associated with facilitating a settlement. The monetary and non-monetary terms of the settlement are described in detail in a revised Confidential Stipulation of Settlement of a Class Action ("the Stipulation"), which was submitted to the Court on November 5, 2010.

The Settlement covers all Full- and Part-Time Workweeks (collectively "Qualifying Workweeks"), as defined in the Stipulation. Under the terms of the Stipulation, a Full-Time Workweek is any workweek in which "32.1 hours or more are present and paid in a payroll check for time worked in an Aramark component during the Class Period according to Aramark's time and payroll records"; a Part-Time Workweek is one in which "at least six and no more than 32 hours are present and paid in a payroll check."

The individual settlement amount for which each participating claimant is eligible will be calculated as follows: Settlement Pool = X Total Class Workweeks Full-Time Workweeks equal X, and Part-Time Workweeks equal 1/2 X, so each claimant will receive the total number of Workweeks he/she worked multiplied by X. There are a total of 137,721 workweeks for the Settlement Class. The Class is guaranteed 40% of the maximum settlement pool, so if fewer than 40% of the workweeks are claimed, the remaining unclaimed funds up to the 40% floor will be divided among the claimants.

In addition, because investigation suggested that the interests of the Class would be served by ensuring that Class Members understand how they are paid, Plaintiff sought, and the Settlement includes, mechanisms through which Class Members can learn this information.

LEGAL STANDARD AND DISCUSSION

I. Class Certification

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)(1)

Rule 23(a) requires the following:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;

(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a).

1. The Numerosity Requirement "No single magic number exists satisfying the numerosity requirement." Behrend v. Comcast Corp., 245 F.R.D. 195, 202 (E.D. Pa. 2007) (internal quotation omitted). However, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals often embraces classes of 40 or more. See Stewart v. Abraham, 275 F.3d 220, 226-27 (3d Cir. 2001).Here, the Settlement Class consists of 5,817 individuals (5,814 originally identified, plus 3 more self-identified class members). See Mot. for Final Approval, Ex. 1 at ¶¶ 8, 14. Based on this, the Court concludes that the numerosity requirement is satisfied.

2. Commonality

To satisfy the commonality requirement, plaintiffs must show the existence of at least one question of law or fact common to the class. Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a); In re Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. Sales Practice Litig. Agent Actions, 148 F.3d 283, 310 (3d Cir. 1998). The commonality threshold is low, Georgine v. Amchem Prods., Inc., 83 F.3d 610, 627 (3d Cir. 1996), and does not require "an identity of claims or facts among class members," Johnston v. HBO Film Mgmt, 265 F.3d 178, 184 (3d Cir. 2001). Moreover, "the existence of individualized issues in a proposed class action does not per se defeat commonality." Brooks v. Educators Mut. Life Ins. Co., 206 F.R.D. 96, 101 (E.D. Pa. 2002) (citing Johnston, 265 F.3d at 191 (3d Cir. 2001)).

Mr. Williams asserts that this requirement is met by the Defendants' common timekeeping and payroll policies. Because the commonality requirement is "not a high bar," see Chiang v. Veneman, 385 F.3d 256, 265 (3d Cir. 2004), the ...


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