Law360 (April 29, 2020, 4:32 PM EDT) -- An Illinois federal judge signed off on an overtime class action settlement against clothing company DTLR without rescheduling a fairness hearing Wednesday, saying the need to promptly compensate the workers outweighs the need for an in-court hearing given ongoing coronavirus restrictions.
DTLR Inc. and a class of nearly 150 workers were set to appear on May 12 for final approval of their $145,000 settlement under the Fair Labor Standards Act. But since the federal court's operational coronavirus restrictions will extend through May 29 and no class members challenged or opted out of the deal, the need for an in-person hearing is outweighed by the need for prompt payment, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly said in a minute order. He noted a hearing would have to be delayed until June at the earliest.
Representing the class, David Fish of The Fish Law Firm PC told Law360 in an email Wednesday that he and his clients are "very grateful for the thoughtful and meaningful actions" from Judge Kennelly, because the order means his clients can use the payments during an important time.
"Given that most of our clients are low wage earners, and many people in general are out of work, our clients need the money from the settlement more now than ever," he said.
But Fish said that in his experience, not all judges are putting forth a similar effort to "keep the wheels of justice moving" amid the ongoing pandemic. He said that a number of his class action settlements totaling millions of dollars "are at a standstill" as a result, waiting for the necessary final approval that would put money in his clients' hands.
"I also am worried that when the courts do reopen for normal business, whenever that might be, there will be a significant backlog," Fish told Law360. "The coronavirus is bad enough; we don't need to add on a Coronadelay."
Representatives for DTLR did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
Former DTLR assistant manager Lanicka Smith sued the Maryland-based company in November 2018. She claimed the clothing retailer had violated federal and state wage laws when it failed to properly pay her and similarly situated Illinois employees 1½ times their normal wage for all hours they worked after logging 40 hours in a work week.
Smith and DTLR alerted Judge Kennelly to their settlement in late January, and he granted it preliminary approval less than a week later. With his final approval order now on the docket, DTLR will put the settlement money into a fund within 30 days, and the settlement administrator will mail class members' payments out within 44 days of it becoming nonappealable, according to court records.
Judge Kennelly's minute order also approved the class's request for a third of the settlement money as attorney fees, a $7,500 incentive award for Smith and other related costs.
Smith is represented by David Fish, Kimberly Hilton and John Kunze of The Fish Law Firm PC.
DTLR is represented by Jason Friedman, Kimberly Seten, Katie Rhoten and Susan Bassford Wilson of Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete LLP.
The case is Lanicka Smith v. DTLR Inc., case number 1:18-cv-07628, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
--Editing by John Campbell.
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