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Darden Restaurants Pays Another $11 Million To Settle Overtime Class Actions

We haven't seen a press release, but according to its most recent SEC filings, it looks like Darden Restaurants Inc. (Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants) has agreed to pay up to $11 million to settle five wage and hour class actions pending in Los Angeles, Orange and Sacramento Counties. Unlike our case, which settled for $9.5 million, these cases included overtime claims on behalf of service managers, beverage and hospitality managers and culinary managers who were classified as exempt employees.

Here is what DRI had to say about our case:

Like other restaurant companies and retail employers, we have been faced in a few states with allegations of purported class-wide wage and hour violations. In March 2002 and March 2003, two purported class action lawsuits were brought against us in the Superior Court of Orange County, California by three current and former hourly restaurant employees alleging violations of California labor laws with respect to providing meal and rest breaks. Although we continue to believe we provided the required meal and rest breaks to our employees, to avoid potentially costly and protracted litigation, we agreed during the second quarter of fiscal 2005 to settle both lawsuits and a similar case filed in Sacramento County, for approximately $9.5 million. Terms of the settlement did not include any admission of liability by us, and all settlement proceeds were paid as of the end of the third quarter of fiscal 2006.

Here's what they had to say about the latest settlement:

Beginning in 2002, a total of five purported class action lawsuits were filed in Superior Courts of California (two each in Los Angeles County and Orange County, and one in Sacramento County) in which the plaintiffs allege that they and other current and former service managers, beverage and hospitality managers and culinary managers were improperly classified as exempt employees under California labor laws. The plaintiffs sought unpaid overtime wages and penalties. Two of the cases were removed to arbitration under our mandatory arbitration program, one was stayed to allow consideration of judicial coordination with the other cases, one is proceeding as an individual claim, and one remains a purported class action litigation matter. Although we continue to believe we correctly classified these employees, to avoid potentially costly and protracted litigation, we agreed in February 2006 to a tentative settlement. Without admitting any liability, we agreed to pay up to a maximum total of $11 million to settle all five cases, of which $9 million was recognized during fiscal 2006 and is included in selling, general and administrative expenses. The tentative settlement will be documented in a full settlement agreement and must have court approval. We cannot predict when the settlement will be final but estimate preliminary court approval will occur in the first half of fiscal 2007, with final court approval and payment of the settlement proceeds no earlier than the second quarter of fiscal 2007.

That last bit makes it sound like the final approval will come before the preliminary approval, which can't be the case, but we infer from it that the payments will be made shortly.

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