Olan Mills Inc. to Pay $3 Million Settlement

By David Walker

A federal court judge in Tennessee approved a $3 million class action settlement agreement last month between Olan Mills Inc. and employees--past and current--in four states as compensation for the portrait studio chain's violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The alleged violations occurred between 2003 and 2009.

Olan Mills, which is based in Tennessee, was sued earlier this year by 18 current and former employees--all of them women--from Tennessee, California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Georgia and Michigan. Most of the plaintiffs are (or were) employed as studio photographers, paid on an hourly basis.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that Olan Mills, Inc. violated federal law by forcing employees to work off the clock. Specifically, they said they were required to perform work duties before their shifts officially started, and after those shifts ended,  and to attend various meetings--all without compensation for their time.

The plaintiffs also alleged that Olan Mills violated federal and state laws by failing to pay overtime wages for overtime work; for denying employees time for meals and other breaks on long shifts; for failure to reimburse employees after they had paid out-of-pocket to purchase items necessary for their work; and for withholding wages owed to employees.

Olan Mills denied the allegations, but reached an agreement with plaintiffs to settle the claims in order to avoid the expense and risk of protracted litigation, according to court documents. The two sides reached the agreement with the help of a neutral mediator.

The court approved payments of $10,000 to seven of the named plaintiffs to settle their additional claims of sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and retaliation. The court also approved a $1 million fee for the plaintiffs' attorneys, plus $42,000 in litigation expenses. The remaining money--about $1.9 million--was set aside for past and current employees who opted into the class action lawsuit, and who filed legitimate claim forms by last June 22. (All were were notified of the pending settlement before that date.)

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