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Vikram v. First Student Management, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 3, 2019

BHANU VIKRAM, Plaintiff,


          KANDIS A. WESTMORE, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Bhanu Vikram filed the instant putative class action against Defendant First Student Management, LLC, alleging violations of various California labor laws. (See Second Amended Compl. (“SAC”), Dkt. No. 56.) The parties subsequently settled the case, and on March 7, 2019, the Court preliminarily approved the proposed settlement and directed that notice be sent to the class members. (Preliminary Approval Ord., Dkt. No. 57.) Pending before the Court are: (1) Plaintiff's motion for final approval of the settlement, and (2) Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees, costs, and a service award. (Plf.'s Mot. for Final Approval, Dkt. No. 67; Plf.'s Mot. for Attorney's Fees, Dkt. No. 63.) No. opposition was filed.

         Upon consideration of the parties' filings, as well as the arguments presented at the August 29, 2019 motion hearing, and for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for final approval is GRANTED, and Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Defendant is a school bus operator that provides student transportation services for schools and districts. (SAC ¶ 2.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant failed to accurately calculate and pay wages in two ways. (SAC ¶ 6.) First, Plaintiff alleges that employees were required to appear at the bus yard at a pre-designated time and stand in line to receive route assignments and keys. (SAC ¶ 7.) Employees then walked to their assigned bus and logged into Defendant's time-keeping system. Between employees' arrival at the bus yard at the pre-designated time and logging in, an average of five to ten minutes would have passed. (SAC ¶ 7.) Employees, however, were not paid for this time.

         Second, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant had a non-discretionary program that paid incentive wages based on employees meeting various performance goals. (SAC ¶ 9.) One such goal involved assisting handicapped children. (SAC ¶ 9.) Specifically, employees who were required to use the lift assist with handicapped children were compensated with incentive pay in the amount of $7.00/day. (SAC ¶ 9.) This pay was called “lift pay” or “comm” pay. (SAC ¶ 9.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant failed to include this incentive compensation as part of their employees' regular rate of pay when calculating overtime. (SAC ¶ 9.)

         B. Procedural Background

         On July 6, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant case, alleging violations of various California labor laws. (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) In litigating the case, Plaintiff served discovery and exchanged information and documents. (Blumenthal Decl. ¶ 6(b), Dkt. No. 67-1.) Class counsel also reviewed documents provided by Plaintiff and Defendant, and retained an expert to calculate damages. (Blumenthal Decl. ¶ 6(d).) On April 23, 2018, the parties participated in an all-day mediation with Gig Kyriacou. (Blumenthal Decl. ¶ 6(g).) The parties engaged in arms-length negotiations, and at the conclusion of the mediation, the parties accepted the mediator's proposal. (Blumenthal Decl. ¶ 6(g).)

         On December 4, 2018, Plaintiff filed an unopposed motion for preliminary approval. (Dkt. No. 47.) On December 20, 2018, the Court requested supplemental briefing. (Dkt. No. 50.) On January 7, 2019, Plaintiff filed a supplemental declaration. (Dkt. No. 52.) The supplemental declaration stated that the settlement was limited only to the comm payments, or the bonus paid to drivers required to use the lift assist for handicapped children. (See Dkt. No. 52 ¶ 4a.)

         On January 23, 2019, the Court requested additional supplemental briefing, noting that the then-operative complaint “contains no facts related to ‘comm' payments, lift payments, or bonuses in assisting handicapped children.” (Dkt. No. 53 at 1.) On January 31, 2019, Plaintiff for the first time clarified that the lift and comm payments were a type of incentive compensation. (Dkt. No. 54 at 1.) Pursuant to the Court's order, Plaintiff filed the operative complaint, which contained facts specific to the claims being settled. (Dkt. No. 55 at 1-2; SAC ¶ 9.)

         On March 7, 2019, the Court held a hearing on March 7, 2019. (Dkt. No. 58.) That same day, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion for preliminary approval.

         C. Settlement Agreement

         Under the terms of the settlement agreement (“Settlement”), Defendants agree to pay a “Gross Settlement Amount” of $435, 000. (Blumenthal Decl., Exh. 2 (“Settlement Agreement”) ¶¶ I.Q, III.A.) Of the Gross Settlement Amount, Plaintiff's counsel seeks an attorney's fee award of 25%, or $108, 750, costs not to exceed $10, 000, settlement administration costs of $8, 662.50 and a service award for named Plaintiff of $10, 000. (Settlement Agreement ¶¶ III.B.1-2, 4; see also Molina Decl. ¶ 17, Dkt. No. 68.) The Gross Settlement Amount also includes $10, 000 in penalties under California's Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”); $7, 500 shall be paid to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”) and $2, 500 will be part of the Net Settlement Amount for distribution to participating class members. (Settlement Agreement ¶ III.B.3.) This leaves a Net Settlement Amount of $290, 087.50. (Molina Decl. ¶ 15.)

         Settlement payments are calculated by: (1) dividing the Net Settlement Amount by the total workweeks worked by all participating class members during the class period, including a workweek enhancement for former employees, and (2) multiplying the result by each individual's total number of workweeks worked during the class period. (Settlement Agreement ¶ III.C.2.) Former employees will receive a 2.0 enhancement multiplier of their workweeks to account for their California Labor Code § 203 waiting time penalty claim. (Settlement Agreement ¶ III.C.2.)

         The claims being released by the Settlement are limited to the “failure to pay overtime wages associated with the payment of lift pay, and all related and derivative claims based thereon, up to June 15, 2018, and which were alleged, or could have been alleged, in the original Complaint or any amended Complaint filed in the Action.” (Settlement Agreement ¶ I.X.) All other claims, including those related to uncompensated time between arriving at the bus yard and logging in, will be dismissed without prejudice. (Settlement Agreement ¶ III.F.1.) The class is limited to individuals who worked for Defendant as bus drivers at Defendant's San Francisco ...

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