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Your overtime claim is everybody’s business.

Poulin v. General Dynamics Shared Resources, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:09-cv-58 (W.D.Va. March 26, 2010). The plaintiff in this case alleged that from 1982 to the present, his employer had failed to pay him overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Among other things, the FLSA provides that an employee cannot release his or her claims under the Act without court approval. In this case, the parties asked the court to approve the settlement agreement but asked the court to keep the terms of the settlement agreement and release permanently under seal. The court declined to do so, finding that the right of public access to judicial records and documents is grounded both in the common law and in the First Amendment, and that the parties’ privacy interests were “plainly insufficient to outweigh the public’s right to access judicial records and documents.” Going a step further, the court held that its approval of the settlement was a matter that the public had a right to know about and evaluate. As the court put it, “Once a matter is brought before a court for resolution, it is no longer solely the parties’ case, but also the public’s case.” In denying the request to place the settlement agreement under seal, the court gave the parties the option of withdrawing from the settlement agreement, or moving forward with it recognizing that it would be part of the public record.

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