"Bank Of America Workers Get OK For $6M Wage Class Deal"
Law 360, January 26, 2017

By Cara Bayles

A California federal judge said at a hearing Thursday that he'll grant preliminary approval to a $6.6 million deal to settle wage and hour claims brought by a class of 478 Bank of America employees who handle account setup, wiring funds and online banking for corporate clients.

The deal will grant at least $10,000 to each “client fulfillment specialist.” The employees had sued the bank alleging overtime, rest break, wage statement and timely payment claims.

Subclasses also brought claims under individual state laws. Thursday’s deal will use the statutes of the states where class members worked to determine how much they will get. Workers in California and Illinois, both of which have broader labor protections than states like North Carolina, stand to gain the most from the settlement.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg noted that the suit was worth an estimated $18 million and asked the plaintiffs why the settlement was the best outcome for the class.

“This is about a third,” he said. “Summarize for me why that's a good deal.”

Class counsel Bryan Schwartz said he couldn't find prior case law about these types of employees, which made it more difficult to determine the outcome of the case, but added that a trial would have been hard-fought and his clients might not have won all that they asked for. If Bank of America successfully argued that the employees were subject to a fluctuating workweek, for example, Schwartz said that would “decimate our claims.”

Schwartz said the bank would likely have argued at trial that the workers could qualify for an administrative exemption to wage and hour laws because they dealt with important business clients and had more discretion than most customer service representatives.

“I'm not saying we wouldn’t prevail over that. I think we’d have a pretty good shot. But there’s been no case like this,” he said. “With the current environment in federal courts, and the ways it's evolving, exemptions may become more robust.”

Judge Seeborg called named plaintiff Allen Buckingham’s award of $15,000 on top of his class claim “pretty substantial” but conceded that the suit wouldn’t have existed without him.

Schwartz also told the judge that the Private Attorneys General Act payment of $75,000 was within the range for the Northern District of California.

The only change Judge Seeborg asked for was a provision affording a second attempt to reach class members who didn’t cash their checks. He recommended the parties “tweak it if you can,” adding “it’s enough money on a per class member basis that those checks shouldn’t end up in the trash.”

Counsel for Bank of America and for the class declined to comment on the case.

The class is represented by Eduard R Meleshinsky and Bryan Schwartz of Bryan Schwartz Law.

Bank of America is represented by John Arthur Van Hook, Michael David Mandel and Sylvia Jihae Kim of McGuireWoods LLP.

The case is Allen Buckingham et al. v. Bank of America Corp. Inc., case number 3:15-cv-06344, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

--Editing by Sara Ziegler.

matthew_blake@dailyjournal.com