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Scott v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

March 14, 2018

LUANNA SCOTT, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FAMILY DOLLAR STORES, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          Max O. Cogburn Jr. United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the court on plaintiff's Motion to Approve Attorneys' Fees & Expenses Pursuant to the Parties' Settlement Agreement (#330) and the joint Motion for Final Approval of Settlement Agreement (#331). Having considered plaintiff's motion and reviewed the pleadings, the court enters the following Order.

         FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

         I. Motion for Final Approval of Settlement Agreement

         At the March 14, 2018, hearing, the Court heard arguments from counsel concerning the settlement. The Court also considered the nature and form of notice provided, the efficacy of the notice, the number of opt-outs or requests for exclusions, the number of objections, and the fact that an opportunity to be heard for class members was provided and none appeared. The Court concludes that the proposed settlement is fair and reasonable to Class Members when balanced against the probable outcome of further litigation, liability and damages issues, and the potential appeal of any rulings.

         A. Jurisdiction

         The Court has personal jurisdiction over the Parties and all Settlement Class Members, and has subject-matter jurisdiction over this Action, including, without limitation, jurisdiction to approve the proposed settlement, to settle and release all claims arising out of the transactions alleged in Plaintiffs' complaint in the Action, and to dismiss this Action on the merits and with prejudice.

         B. History of the Proceedings

         The current proceedings began nearly 15 years ago when 49 female Store Managers and their counsel filed EEOC Charges which alleged a pattern and practice of discriminatory wages paid to women as a class at Family Dollar since July 2, 2002. Plaintiffs alleged that Family Dollar discriminates against female Store Managers by paying them less than men are paid for the same job in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The EEOC eventually issued right-to-sue letters which led to the filing of this case as a putative nationwide class action. The case was transferred to this Court from the Northern District of Alabama in 2008 and has been vigorously litigated over the last ten years, including multiple motions to dismiss the class allegations, formal and informal discovery of such allegations, an unsuccessful mediation in 2011, a renewed motion to strike the class allegations in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541 (2011), briefing and argument on Plaintiffs' motion to amend the class allegations to meet the requirements of Wal-Mart, appeal of the decision dismissing the original class allegations and denying Plaintiffs' amendment, briefing Family Dollar's Petition for Certiorari to the Supreme Court, extensive discovery and statistical analysis on remand, preparation of briefs and evidentiary submissions in support of class certification, arbitration and notice to the class, and then a second round of mediation in March, 2017.

         This is not a case in which the Parties reached an early or easy settlement. Instead, this has been a hard-fought case in which both sides worked diligently to gather and interpret information and to represent their clients in discovery, in litigating class certification, in preparation for trial, and later in mediation. The Mediator, Mark Rudy, determined and proposed the terms of settlement once the Parties left the 2017 mediation without reaching settlement for a second time. Mr. Rudy is a distinguished, highly respected professional who has had substantial experience in mediating complex class actions similar to this case. The formal mediation proceedings took place for two days in March 2017 in San Francisco and ended with a double-blind Mediator's proposal which the Parties' subsequently accepted. From March through October the parties communicated with Mr. Rudy separately and continued to negotiate until the final details of the settlement agreement were documented in the Settlement Agreement now pending before the Court.

         After reaching such an agreement, the Parties continued to negotiate and finalize the procedural and logistical details needed to embody and document their agreement as well as the supporting documents (e.g., Class Notice) for the agreement.

         C. Notice

         The Court finds that the notice provided to Class Members, including direct mail notice, is in accordance with the terms of the Settlement and this Court's Preliminary Approval Order dated November 14, 2017, and thereby constituted the best practicable notice to Settlement Class Members under the circumstances of this Action, constituted reasonable, due, adequate, and sufficient notice to all persons and entities entitled to be provided with notice and otherwise fully satisfied the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the United States Constitution (including the Due Process Clause), and the Rules of this Court.

         Pursuant to the Preliminary Approval Order, the Settlement Administrator appointed by the Court (Settlement Services, Inc./Garden City Group, Inc.) gave direct notice of the proposed settlement to the Settlement Class Members in this case. The class list of Notice recipients was determined using employment data provided by Family Dollar and data gathered by Class Counsel during the course of litigation. The Court finds that the notice plan was reasonably calculated, under the circumstances, to apprise Settlement Class Members of: (a) the nature of the action; (b) the definition of the class certified; (c) a description of the class claims, issues, and defenses; (d) the identities of the Parties; (e) a summary of the terms of the proposed Settlement, including the amount of attorneys' fees and expenses contemplated to be paid to Plaintiffs' Counsel; (f) notice that the Settlement Class Members may object to the proposed settlement and appear at the Final Fairness Hearing or opt-out of the settlement altogether; (g) information regarding the manner in which objections or opt-outs can be submitted; and (h) the binding effect of the class judgment and the scope of release of class and individual claims. As such, the Court finds that the Notice fully satisfied the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, including Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(c)(2) and (e), the United States Constitution (including the Due Process Clause), the rules of this Court, and all other applicable laws, and thereby provided sufficient notice to bind all Settlement Class Members, regardless of whether a particular Settlement Class Member received actual notice.

         D. ...


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