The Importance of Getting a Release Agreement — and Getting the RIGHT One — When Settling Your FLSA Case in Georgia

You’ve finally done it. With the help of your skillful Atlanta minimum wage and unpaid overtime lawyer, you’ve successfully negotiated the terms of a settlement that’s agreeable to both sides. The defense gets to stop litigating and you get compensated. So, getting your check and dismissing your case are all that’s left, right?

Actually, no. There is another part of the settlement process upon which the defense will almost inevitably insist (and you should, too.) That’s the “release agreement.” The release agreement is a contract that says that in exchange for the defense making payment and you dismissing your case, there are certain things each side agrees to do and/or not do. This agreement might seem like a mere formality, but it’s actually very important. You need to ensure that the agreement you sign does not contain overly broad or imprecise language that potentially inhibits your ability to seek compensation for other non-FLSA-related transgressions in which your employer may have engaged.

As an example, there’s this Fair Labor Standards Act case from south Georgia. The employer was a property cleanup and restoration business in Brunswick, and the plaintiffs were two of its employees. (The specifics of the alleged violations weren’t relevant to the court’s ruling, so the judge did not discuss them.)

The two sides eventually worked out a settlement. They also worked out a release agreement. After the parties submitted everything to the court, the judge refused to OK the initial release agreement.

Overbroad Language Can Potentially Damage a Worker’s Non-FLSA Rights

The reason? The agreement was impermissibly broad and that less-than-ideal language had the potential to hurt the employees unfairly. Typically, a release agreement will have language indicating the plaintiffs are, in exchange for the payment, forever abandoning their claims against the defendants. Sometimes, though, these agreements aren’t specific enough. In this case, the original release agreement was “unduly pervasive,” according to the judge. That meant its language was so broad that it had the potential to strip away the workers’ right to pursue other claims that were not connected to any FLSA violations.

(How might that happen? There are many possible examples. One possibility could be a worker who allegedly received a sub-minimum wage and also experienced sexual harassment at work. Another might be a worker who endured retaliation for speaking out against racial discrimination in the workplace, and also didn’t get the overtime pay they were owed.)

Overbroad release agreement provisions can take many different forms. Back in 2017, a federal court in California rejected a release agreement that had language stating that the plaintiffs released “any and all claims against Defendants, known or unknown, which may have arisen up to the date of the Settlement Agreement.” A month earlier, a federal judge in New York refused to approve a release agreement that contained language stating that the payment the defendants made represented the “full and final settlement of all past, present, and future claims and causes of action by Plaintiff against Defendants.”

Be aware that, here in Georgia (where federal cases are controlled by the rulings of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals,) the law strongly favors obtaining approval of settlements. That approval comes from either the U.S. Labor Department or the judge presiding over the case.

At every step of the process, from before you file until after you’ve gotten compensated, the right legal representation can be invaluable in ensuring that you’re properly protected and that you’re getting what you’re owed. The Atlanta unpaid overtime attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to help workers in Georgia to do just that. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.

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