LOWVILLE — Stewart’s Shops Inc. is poised to settle a six-year-long class-action lawsuit initiated by a former Lewis County woman who worked at the convenience store chain’s West Carthage location.
Holly Gregory, who now lives in Florida, filed suit on behalf of herself and others similarly situated in January 2014 in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, claiming the Saratoga Springs-based chain systematically failed to pay its workforce for all hours worked, allegedly resulting in employees being paid below state and federal minimum wage.
The suit alleged that Stewart’s did not pay employees overtime at the rate of tim-and-a-half for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours as required under the Fair Labor Standards Act; that workers were unable to take 20 minute meal breaks during shifts of six hours or more; and workers were required to attend store meetings even when not scheduled to work and were not compensated for a minimum of three hours worked, as required by state law.
Throughout the litigation, Stewart’s denied the claims and maintained that it has consistently paid its employees in full compliance with state and federal law.
In addition to Ms. Gregory, two other employees, Astrid Halten and Matthew Potter, were added to the lawsuit as named plaintiffs in April 2014. In September 2016, a judge allowed the case to proceed as a class action regarding the overtime compensation and call-in claims, but dismissed the meal break claims.
According to court documents, Magistrate Judge Andrew T. Baxter approved a preliminary settlement in the case this past July 24 and the matter is slated to go before Senior Judge Thomas J. McAvoy on Jan. 2 for final approval. Both sides have indicated they are in agreement with the settlement.
In all, about 34,000 current or former Stewart’s employees were offered the opportunity to opt into the suit, although just 146 chose to do so, court documents indicate.
According to court documents, Stewart’s has agreed to pay $675,000 to settle the action, of which 33 percent, or $225,000, will go to the plaintiff’s attorneys, E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, Troy. The firm took the case on a contingency basis, expending about 1,350 billable hours on the matter and fronting many other expenses associated with the litigation.
The three named plaintiffs — Ms. Gregory, Ms. Halten and Mr. Potter — will receive $5,000 each in addition to the class-action payout, owing to the time the trio dedicated to the case and the risk they took in terms of potential future employment opportunities by identifying themselves as having brought a suit against their employer. The remaining opt-in members will receive a minimum of $200, according to documents.