Judge Cogburn Issues Order Discussing Communications to Class Members During Pendency of Class Proceedings

We previously reported on Judge Cogburn’s decision to certify a class in an employee misclassification case, Rehberg v. Flowers Baking Co of Jamestown, LLC, No. 3:12-cv-596 (W.D.N.C. March 23, 2015). In May, the Fourth Circuit denied Defendants’ Rule 23(f) appeal, and so the case is proceeding in the district court. The class members have distributorship agreements with the Defendants that condition payments (in the event of any sale, conveyance or assignment) upon execution of a release. Class counsel apparently became irritated with the effect of these releases (and the communications accompanying them) and asked the Court to supervise this process, something a district court has broad authority to do. See generally Gulf Oil Co. v. Bernard, 452 U.S. 89, 100 (1981). Defendants agreed to send certain “curative notices” and to inform class members of their right to petition the court to seek invalidation of the release, and the Court agreed this was reasonable. Judge Cogburn also sided with Defendants’ view that claims under the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act can be released by private agreement, and therefore declined generally to invalidate the general releases signed by class members.