"JPMorgan Strikes $1.2M Deal In Home Appraisers' OT Suit" (link)

Law360, November 2, 2011

Home appraisers in a putative class and collective action claiming JPMorgan Chase & Co. misclassified them as exempt from overtime pay rules sought preliminary approval Tuesday of a $1.2 million settlement. 

Named plaintiffs Mary Ann Adlao and Marian Williams asked U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong in California to give green light to the deal, under which about about 166 class members are expected to receive an average of about $5,000.

Though the plaintiffs feel strongly that their claims have merit, getting a class certified and winning a monetary award larger than the settlement is inherently risky, they said. The U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit have made class certification more difficult over the years, they said, adding that California's standard for meal period enforcement is presently undefined.

"In light of these risks, as well as the expenses and uncertainty associated with continued litigation, plaintiffs' counsel strongly believe that the settlement is fair and appropriate under the circumstances, is in the best interests of the settlement class, and will result in significant financial benefit to participating class members," Tuesday's motion said.

The allegations center on the alleged misclassification of default property valuation review appraisers who worked in JPMorgan's home lending business unit in the Golden State and around the nation, the motion states.

The plaintiffs accused the company of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and California law. In addition to overtime claims, they also alleged that the employer failed to provide meal and rest periods, provide itemized wage statements, and cover business expenses.

A Sept. 26 amended complaint also claimed that the allegedly unlawful wage-and-hour practices violated California's unfair competition law, and sought civil penalties under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004.

The proposed deal calls for a settlement payment of nearly $1.2 million. After the deduction of $298,750 in attorneys' fees and $25,000 to cover litigation costs, a $5,000 enhancement award for each named plaintiff, a $7,500 payment to California's Labor and Workforce Development Agency for the PAGA claims, and $15,000 to cover settlement administration fees and costs, about $838,750 will be available for distribution to approximately 166 class members.

During the applicable class and collective periods, JP Morgan Chase had about 49 appraisal class members in California and 117 outside the state, said the preliminary approval motion.

The deal covers appraisers employed in California from Oct. 5, 2006, through Aug. 1, 2010, a period that stems from the California Business and Professions Code's four-year statute of limitations, and appraisers employed outside California from Oct. 5, 2007, through Aug. 1, 2010, based on the maximum three-year FLSA statute of limitations.

The suit was filed on Oct. 5, 2010, shortly after JPMorgan made the appraiser position at issue eligible for overtime pay. The plaintiffs, who according to the amended complaint still work for the defendant, said that the name of the position they held had changed over the years, as had been referred to as appraisal review analyst and valuation analyst, among other titles.

The suit also targeted EMC Mortgage Corp. and Bear Stearns Inc. Bear Stearns bought EMC and was later acquired by JPMorgan.

A spokesman for JPMorgan did not immediately respond to a query about the case Wednesday. An attorney for the plaintiffs could not be immediately reached.

The plaintiffs are represented by David Borgen, Jospeh Jaramillo, Jason Tarricone and Roberto Concepcion Jr. of Goldstein Demchak Baller Borgen & Dardarian and Bryan Schwartz and Hillary Jo Baker of Bryan Schwartz Law.

The defendants are represented by Jennifer Lockhart and Eric Meckley of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.

The case is Adlao et al. v. JPMorgan Chase & Co. et al., case number 4:10-cv-04508, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

-Editing by Chris Giganti.