Failure to Fully Pay Employees for Work Before Entering Production Area Results in $320,000 Settlement

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the term “donning and doffing” is used to refer to the practice of putting on (donning) and taking off (doffing) protective gear, clothing and uniforms and other activities to prepare to work. Employers must pay employees for time spent donning and doffing which is considered an integral part of, or are indispensable to an employee’s regular duties. In Pacheco v. Vantage Foods, Inc. (M. D. Pa. no. 14-cv-1127 (February 11, 2016)(Conner, J.), the court approved a $320,000 settlement in a class action case filed by employees at a beef processing plant whose duties involve food processing. The company policy required that before entering production areas, employees were required to wash their hands and gather and don various items (primarily hairnets, gloves, smocks, and aprons) required to keep the food clean and knife-wielding production workers also must gather and don cut-resistant gloves and sleeves.The employer maintained a policy by which employees were paid from the time they “clock-in” at electronic timekeeping devices located just outside the plant’s production area, however, the washing and donning activities occurred before the workers clocked-in for payroll purposes. Also, during their daily meal breaks, the employees were required to repeat the same washing and donning activities during a 35-minute period uncompensated break. The employer provided a daily 4-minute payroll credit to workers employed in knife-wielding positions and a daily 2-minute payroll credit to other production workers.

The employees filed a class action lawsuit asserting violations of the FLSA and the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (PMWA), alleging that they were not compensated for all washing and donning activities because under the employer’s timekeeping system, all work was not captured, as time the employees spent on washing and donning activities at the beginning of the workday and during the meal breaks was not calculated and paid. In approving the settlement, the court found that the $210,000.00 payable to the class member employees from the gross settlement was appropriate under the multi-factor test set forth in Girsh v. Jepson, 521 F.2d 153 (3d Cir. 1975). The factors the Court considered in favor of approving the settlement based on Girsh were: (a) the complexity, expense, and likely duration of the litigation; (b) the reaction of the class to the settlement; (c) the stage of the proceeding and the amount of the discovery completed; (d) the risks of establishing liability; (e) the risks of establishing damages; (f) the risks of maintaining the class action through trial; (g) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund in light of the best possible recovery; and (h) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund to a possible recovery in light of all the attendant risks of litigation. Under the settlement, class members received approximately 5.5 minutes of compensable time each day, free and clear of attorney’s fees, expenses, service awards, and employer-side taxes. Moreover, the settlement resulted in the extra pay received by knife-wielding workers to approximately 9.5 minutes (5.5 minutes plus the 4-minute credit) and the extra pay received by other workers to approximately 7.5 minutes (5.5 minutes plus the 2-minute credit).

In Pacheo, the court also approved the requested service award of $2,500.00 to the named plaintiff employee in recognition of her role in initiating the lawsuit and diligently pursuing her legal claims on behalf of the class. The court also found that the requested payment of $107,500.00 to class counsel for attorney’s fees and $24,738.19 in expense reimbursement was reasonable and necessary under the circumstances of this litigation and settlement.

Abramson Employment Law represents employees who have FLSA claims for unpaid wages and overtime pay. For more information see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126494.html

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Filed under Employment Law, Fair Labor Standards Act, Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law, Unpaid Overtime FLSA, Unpaid Wages

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