Frequently Asked Questions
Why Did I Get A Notice? What Is the Lawsuit About?
You have received a notice because records indicate that you worked during the relevant time period as a driver for Valley Proteins, Inc. (“Valley Proteins”) in North Carolina. Plaintiffs Christopher Hollis, Herman Purvis, and Veraka Sturdivant, on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated drivers, filed a lawsuit against Valley Proteins on March 19, 2021. Plaintiffs claim Valley Proteins did not pay drivers for all hours worked and that Valley Proteins did not include certain bonuses in calculating the regular rate and the correct overtime rate, as well as that Valley Proteins took unauthorized deductions from drivers' wages, including for uniforms. Plaintiffs claim that Valley Proteins violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), and the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (“NCWHA”), N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 95-25.6, 95-25.22(a), (a1), and (d).
Valley Proteins denies all of the claims in the lawsuit and maintains that it has not engaged in any wrongdoing.
The Court in charge of the case is the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, and the case is known as Hollis et al. v. Valley Proteins, Inc., Case No. 3:21-cv-00112-FDW-DSC. The individuals who sued are called the Plaintiffs, and the company they sued, Valley Proteins, is called the Defendant.
Litigation is risky, and neither side can predict the outcome with certainty. As a result, Plaintiffs and their counsel concluded, after careful consideration of the facts and circumstances following the exchange of extensive information and data and participation in a mediation, that the proposed settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate, and is in the best interests of the opt-in plaintiffs and class members. This settlement avoids the costs and inconvenience associated with each phase of litigation (such as class certification, discovery, dispositive motions, and trial) while providing cash benefits to opt-in plaintiffs and class members. Similarly, Valley Proteins has chosen to settle this matter and make payments to current and former employees solely for the purpose of avoiding disruption to its business and further expense of litigation.
You have a right to know about a proposed settlement of a class action lawsuit, and your options, before the Court decides whether to approve the settlement. If the Court approves it and after any appeals are resolved, an administrator appointed by the Court will make the payments described here.
WHO IS INCLUDED IN THE NOTICE AND SETTLEMENT
Am I Part of the Settlement?
You are eligible to participate in the settlement if you were employed by Valley Proteins as a driver in North Carolina between March 19, 2018, and January 13, 2022.
If you return the claim form by the deadline, you are part of the FLSA collective, and will receive a payment.
If you were a driver employed by Valley Proteins in North Carolina after March 19, 2018, you are automatically part of the class and subject to the terms of the settlement. However, you will still need to return the claim form to receive a payment.
THE SETTLEMENT BENEFITS — WHAT YOU GET
What Does the Proposed Settlement Provide?
The total amount of the settlement is $6,750,000. The settlement amount will mostly be allocated to the current and former employees of Valley Proteins who worked as drivers and who are eligible for the settlement, but it will also be used to pay for attorneys' fees and costs awarded by the Court, the Settlement Administrator's costs, and service awards to Named Plaintiffs and certain other drivers who previously joined this lawsuit (“Select Opt-in Plaintiffs”), to the extent approved by the Court. Because the settlement amount other than fees, costs, and service awards, will be allocated to individual awards for eligible employees, if eligible employees do not submit a claim form, the portion of the settlement allocated to them will not be paid out, reducing the total amount of the settlement. Any amount not claimed will be returned to Valley Proteins.
Plaintiffs will ask the Court to award Named Plaintiffs Christopher Hollis, Herman Purvis, and Veraka Sturdivant and Select Opt-in Plaintiffs Justin Cofield, Rodney Johnson, Nelson Johnson, Ricky Rich, Terry Green, Sean Lucas, and Danny Galbreath a collective $214,000 in service awards, to be divided among these individuals pursuant to the terms in Section III.B.3 of the settlement agreement between the parties dated February 17, 2022 (the “Settlement Agreement”). The service awards requested would be paid to these individuals in addition to their regular settlement payment, for their role as named plaintiffs and select opt-in plaintiffs and prosecuting this lawsuit on the behalf of all Class Members, their assistance and support in prosecuting this case, and for the broader release of claims they will provide. The Court has not yet ruled on whether it will award these amounts. The Court may deny these requests or award less than these amounts. The Court will make a determination on the reasonableness of these requests at a later date.
The settlement also provides that if any class member does not return the claim form, the class member will not receive payment.
What Am I Giving Up If I Remain in the Settlement?
If you are part of the class, and you do not exclude yourself from the settlement by May 21, 2022 using the procedure explained below in Section 10, you will be deemed to have forever released and discharged Valley Proteins from any claims known or unknown, asserted or unasserted, of any kind whatsoever, that relate to hours worked or the payment of wages, that arose or will arise before March 8, 2022, except to the extent that any such claims may not be waived as a matter of law. That means you will waive all wage and hour claims through the date the settlement is approved. However, if you do not exclude yourself, but also do not submit a claim form, you will not waive your claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act, only other wage and hour claims, and you will not receive a settlement payment.
If you are part of the FLSA collective and you return the claim form, then you will be bound by the same release of claims. That means you will waive all wage and hour claims that arise before March 8, 2022, even if they are not claims asserted in this litigation. If you are part of the FLSA collective and you do not return the claim form, you will not be bound by the terms of the release and you retain the right to sue Defendant for any valid FLSA wage and hour claims, subject to the statute of limitations and any other defenses Defendant may have.
This release of claims against Defendant (which includes its past, present and future subsidiaries, affiliated companies, divisions, successors, predecessors, affiliates and assigns and all of their respective current or former owners, officials, directors, officers, shareholders, agents, employee benefit plans, plan administrators, representatives, representatives, employees, and attorneys) specifically includes, without limitation:
(i) any and all claims asserted in this litigation; AND
(ii) any and all claims for unpaid wages, minimum wages, overtime, late payment of wages, retaliation for complaining about wages or for asserting wage-related claims and/or any other claims of any kind, or any other wage-related or recordkeeping-related claims, damages or relief of any kind, including but not limited to the federal FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., any and all claims under North Carolina state law, including but not limited to the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (“NCWHA”), N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-25.1, et seq.; or any other statutes and/or regulations regulating hours of work, wages, the payment of wages, wage-related or recordkeeping-related claims, the payment of minimum wages, and/or the payment of overtime compensation;
(iii) any and all claims under state and federal law for earned wages, overtime, and/or missed or interrupted meal breaks, including such claims for breach of express contract or labor agreement, implied contract, money had and received in assumpsit, quantum meruit/unjust enrichment, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, equitable estoppel, promissory estoppel, conversion, and failure to keep accurate records.
This release does not apply to any claim by any Class Member for discrimination in violation of state or federal law (except for Named Plaintiffs and Select Opt-in Plaintiffs receiving a service award), or any claim of any type arising on or after the date the settlement has received final approval from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.
THE LAWYERS REPRESENTING YOU
Do I Have a Lawyer in the Case?
Opt-in plaintiffs and class members who do not request exclusion from the settlement are represented in this case by the following attorneys and law firm:
Gilda Adriana Hernandez, Esq.
Charlotte Claire Smith, Esq.
THE LAW OFFICES OF GILDA A.
1020 Southhill Drive, Suite 130
Cary, NC 27513
The Court decided that these lawyers and law firm are qualified to represent the settlement class members in this case. These lawyers are called “Class Counsel.” You can contact Class Counsel if you have questions about this case. If you want to be represented by your own lawyer, you may hire one at your own expense.
How Will the Lawyers Be Paid?
Class Counsel will ask the Court to approve payment of up to one-third of the gross settlement amount ($2,250,000.00) to compensate them for their services in this matter. Class Counsel will also ask the Court to approve reimbursement for their costs spent in litigating this case, which are currently estimated to be approximately $60,000.00. Class Counsel will file a motion with the Court setting out the bases for their requested costs and fees. At a later date, the Court will decide whether Class Counsel's request is reasonable.
HOW YOU GET A PAYMENT — SUBMITTING A CLAIM FORM
How Can I Get a Payment?
To receive a settlement payment, you must timely complete and sign the claim form and return it to the settlement administrator (1) by U.S. Mail in the postage pre-paid envelope sent with the mailed notice or (2) through the online portal. You will need your unique Individual Claim Form Number and Passcode, listed on page one of this notice, to submit an online claim form.
To be considered timely, any completed forms returned to the settlement administrator by U.S. Mail must be postmarked no later than May 21, 2022. You can also complete a claim form electronically. Any completed forms completed on the website must be submitted no later than May 21, 2022.
If you lose, misplace, or need another one of these forms, additional copies can be downloaded on the Important Documents page. Alternatively, you can contact the settlement administrator by telephone at 1-833-308-3332 to request a new copy.
How Much Can I Expect to Receive?
Your payment depends on (1) the number of workweeks you worked during the Class Period, as well as the number of overtime hours you worked during each workweek; and (2) the amount of unauthorized deductions taken from your wages each workweek.
Your settlement payment will be calculated using the formulas set forth in the settlement agreement, and assuming that the Court approves and awards the other amounts requested to be paid from the Gross Settlement Amount, which were discussed in Sections 3 and 6. To learn the amount of your settlement payment, please contact the settlement administrator by telephone at 1-833-308-3332. You will need your Individual Claim Form Number and Passcode, printed at the top of the Notice, to obtain the amount of your individual settlement payment.
Each settlement payment will be separated into two amounts: 50% will be allocated to the claims asserted in the lawsuit for wage-related damages, and 50% will be allocated to the claims asserted in the lawsuit for liquidated damages and other relief. The portion allocated to claims asserted in this lawsuit for unpaid overtime and other wage-related damages will be subject to all authorized or required deductions, just as if it were a regular paycheck, including, but not limited to: local, state and federal taxes, garnishments, child support orders, and tax levies/liens. The portion allocated to wage claims will be reported on an I.R.S. Form W-2. The portion allocated to liquidated damages and other relief will be reported as non-wage income and reported on an I.R.S. Form 1099.
When Would I Get My Payment?
If you are eligible to participate in the settlement and timely provide the form described in Section 8 above, you will be sent a settlement check approximately 45 days after the effective date of the settlement. Before the settlement is effective, however, settlement class members must be given time to object to the settlement or opt-out, the Court must hold a hearing to consider the fairness of the settlement and grant final approval of the settlement, and any appeals of the court's order granting final approval must be resolved. Please be patient.
Please watch your mail for a check and cash it when you get it. You will have 180 days from issuance of the check to cash it. The check will be void after 180 days.
EXCLUDING YOURSELF FROM THE SETTLEMENT
How Do I Get Out of the Settlement?
If you do not wish to be part of this settlement, you may elect to “opt out” by excluding yourself from this action and the associated settlement and judgment. Class members who opt out of this action and FLSA class members who do not return a claim form, would remain free, subject to the statute of limitations, to bring claims against Valley Proteins that are covered by this settlement and release, against which Valley Proteins would assert defenses and litigate. If you decide to opt out, you will not be allowed to object to this settlement. The deadline to opt out is May 21, 2022.
This deadline is final, and forms not postmarked or submitted before the pertinent deadline will not be honored. IF YOU OPT OUT OF THE SETTLEMENT, YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE A PAYMENT.
To opt out, you must submit a written statement to the settlement administrator expressly stating that you wish to be excluded from the settlement. Such requests for exclusion should state at the top of the letter “Request for Exclusion from Settlement in Hollis et al. v. Valley Proteins, Inc., Case No. 3:21-cv-00112-FDW-DSC.” Also be sure to include your name, address, telephone number, and signature. All written requests for exclusion must be sent by First-Class U.S. Mail, postmarked no later than May 21, 2022 to:
Hollis et al. v. Valley Proteins, Inc. Settlement Administrator
P.O. Box 58220
Philadelphia, PA 19102
You cannot exclude yourself by phone or by e-mail. Requests for exclusion that do not include all required information, or that are not timely postmarked, will be deemed null, void, and ineffective.
If I Do Not Exclude Myself, Can I Sue This Defendant for the Same Thing Later?
If you are receiving this notice, you have been identified as a class member for purposes of this lawsuit. As a class member, unless you exclude yourself, you give up any right to sue Defendant for the claims that this settlement resolves, which are set forth in Section 4 above. If you have a pending lawsuit asserting the claims resolved by this settlement, speak to your lawyer in the pending lawsuit immediately. You must exclude yourself from this settlement to continue your own lawsuit against Valley Proteins regarding the claims resolved by this settlement.
If I Exclude Myself From the Settlement, Can I Get Money From This Settlement?
OBJECTING TO THE SETTLEMENT
How Do I Object or Tell the Court That I Don't Like the Settlement?
You can ask the Court to deny approval of the settlement by filing an objection with the Court. You cannot ask the Court to order a different settlement; the Court can only approve or reject the settlement. If the Court denies approval, no settlement payments will be sent out and the lawsuit will continue. If that is what you want to happen, you must object.
To object, you must send a letter to the Court, Class Counsel, and counsel for Valley Proteins giving the reasons why you object to the proposed settlement. The top of your letter should be labeled with the name and case number of this lawsuit (“Hollis v. Valley Proteins, Inc., Case No. 3:21-cv-00112-FDW-DSC”) and must include: (i) your full name, address, telephone number, the approximate dates of your employment with Valley Proteins, and the Valley Proteins location in North Carolina where you worked; and (ii) each specific reason for your objection, including any legal or evidentiary support you have for your objection. You must mail copies of the objection to the Court, Class Counsel, and counsel for Valley Proteins (addresses below), postmarked no later than May 21, 2022:
Clerk of Court
U.S. District Court for the
Western District of North Carolina
401 West Trade Street, Room 1301
Charlotte, NC 28202
Gilda A. Hernandez, Esq.
Charlotte C. Smith, Esq.
THE LAW OFFICES OF GILDA A.
1020 Southhill Dr., Ste. 130
Cary, NC 27513
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT
Ashley Z. Hager, Esq.
Emily E. Schifter, Esq.
HAMILTON SANDERS LLP
Bank of America Plaza
600 Peachtree Street, NE, Suite 3000
Atlanta, GA 30308
Andrew J. Henson
HAMILTON SANDERS LLP
1001 Haxall Point, Suite 1500
Richmond, VA 23219
If you file a timely written objection, you may (but are not required to) appear at the Fairness Hearing, described in Section 16, either in person or through your own attorney. If you appear through your own attorney, you are responsible for hiring and paying that attorney.
What Happens if the Court Rejects my Objection?
The Court will consider any objections that are timely filed. This does not mean, however, that the Court will necessarily take action based on any objection. If the Court rejects your objection, you will still be bound by the terms of the settlement and the release of claims explained in Section 4 above.
Moreover, if you intend to object to the settlement, but still wish to receive a settlement payment, you must timely file the required claim form described in Section 7 above. If the Court approves the settlement despite your objections, and you have not timely filed the required form necessary to receive a settlement payment, you will not receive a settlement payment.
What's the Difference Between Objecting and Excluding?
Objecting is telling the Court you do not like something about the settlement. You can object only if you stay in the settlement. If you exclude yourself from this lawsuit, you are telling the Court you do not want to be part of the lawsuit or settlement. If you request to be excluded from the lawsuit, you have no basis to object to the settlement, because the case no longer affects you.
THE COURT'S FAIRNESS HEARING
When and Where Will the Court Decide Whether to Approve the Settlement?
The Court preliminarily approved this settlement on March 8, 2022. The Court will hold a final hearing (sometimes called a fairness hearing) on this settlement on August 2, 2022 at 9:30 a.m. This hearing will take place in in Courtroom #5B, Charles R. Jonas Federal Building, United States Courthouse, 401 West Trade Street, Charlotte, NC 28202, Judge Frank D. Whitney presiding. After the hearing, the Court will decide whether to approve the settlement. We do not know how long the decision will take.
Do I Have to Come to the Hearing?
No. Attendance at this hearing is completely optional. It is not required to participate in the settlement or opt out of the lawsuit.
May I Speak at the Hearing?
You may ask the Court for permission to speak at the fairness hearing. To do so, you must send a letter saying that it is your “Notice of Intention to Appear at Hearing on Final Approval of Class Settlement in Hollis et al. v. Valley Proteins, Inc., Case No. 3:21-cv-00112-FDW-DSC.” Be sure to include your full name, address, telephone number, and signature. Your notice of intention to appear must be postmarked no later than May 21, 2022, and be sent to the Clerk of Court, and to Class Counsel and Counsel for Valley Proteins at the addresses listed above in Section 13. You cannot speak at the hearing if you have opted out of the lawsuit.
IF YOU DO NOTHING
What Happens If I Do Nothing at All?
You have the right to do nothing. If you do nothing, however, you will not receive any money from this proposed settlement. In addition, unless you timely return a written request for exclusion, you will be bound by the Court's orders in this lawsuit and the release of claims explained in Section 4 above. You will not be able to start a legal action, continue with a legal action, or be part of any other legal action against Valley Proteins regarding the claims resolved by this settlement.
NO RETALIATION OR DISCRIMINATION
If I Am a Current Employee, Will I Experience Any Retaliation or Discrimination?
No. It is against the law to retaliate or discriminate against an employee who decides to participate in this settlement agreement. Valley Proteins will not discriminate or retaliate against you in any way because of your decision to participate or not in the lawsuit or this settlement. However, this prohibition on retaliation does not prevent Valley Proteins from continuing to enforce its policies, work rules and performance expectations with respect to current employees, irrespective of their participation in this settlement.
GETTING MORE INFORMATION
Are There More Details About the Settlement?
The notice summarizes the basic terms of the proposed settlement. Further information is available by contacting the settlement administrator and/or Class Counsel. See Section 5 above.
More details of the settlement are also contained in the Settlement Agreement and the pleadings and other documents relating to the lawsuit that are on file with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina and are available on the Important Documents page. Copies of the complete Settlement Agreement and select other filings in the lawsuit are available by contacting Class Counsel or visiting the Important Documents page. Class Counsel's contact information is located in Section 5 above.
How Do I Get More Information?
You can call 1-833-308-3332 toll free or write to Hollis et al. v. Valley Proteins, Inc. Settlement Administrator, 1650 Arch Street, Suite 2210, Philadelphia, PA 19103. In addition, see Section 5 for Class Counsel's contact information.
PLEASE DO NOT CALL THE COURT, THE CLERK, VALLEY PROTEINS, OR ITS COUNSEL ABOUT THIS SETTLEMENT.
If, for any future reference or mailings, you wish to change your name or address, please inform the settlement administrator of your new address. You can do so by sending a letter to:
Hollis et al. v. Valley Proteins, Inc. Settlement Administrator
1650 Arch Street, Suite 2210
Philadelphia, PA 19103