Five years after filming, Big Sky Productions still hasn’t released “Spring Break ’83,” a coming-of-age teen comedy. But within the employment law community, the film has generated some excitement anyway as a result of a lawsuit that sound and lighting technicians, known as “grips,” filed seeking unpaid wages after working on the film in Louisiana in 2007.
On July 24, the 5th Circuit ruled in Martin v. Spring Break ’83 Productions that a union-negotiated settlement precluded the plaintiffs from pursuing their claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), even though neither a court nor the Department of Labor (DOL) ever approved the settlement. That contravened an 11th Circuit ruling that stood for 30 years as the only federal appellate decision on an issue that often arises when employers terminate or lay off workers. That decision, in Lynn’s Food Stores Inc. v. United States, required court or DOL supervision of an FLSA settlement to protect workers from employers who might coerce them into waiving their rights.
Martin started when the grips filed grievances with their union, contending they had not been paid for all the hours they worked. A union representative investigated the merits of the claims and concluded it would be impossible to determine whether they had worked on the days for which they sought payment. The union and the employer entered a settlement agreement with broad release language. The plaintiffs received and cashed settlement checks.