PORTLAND, MAINE — Flowers Foods, Inc. on Oct. 22 agreed to pay approximately $20 million to current and former distributors in Maine to settle a lawsuit dating back to Dec. 3, 2015.
Under terms of the settlement, Flowers has agreed to create a $9 million settlement fund to be distributed among more than 50 delivery drivers and a $10,000 service award to be given to lead plaintiff Timothy Noll. The Thomasville, Ga.-based company also has agreed to buy back the drivers’ distribution rights at an estimated cost of $3.3 million, which was calculated by taking the sum of 10 times the average weekly branded sales calculated over a 52-week period preceding the date of repurchase. An additional $7.5 million will be paid out to cover attorneys’ fees, costs of notice and settlement administration.
“The parties view the settlement as a desirable alternative to the uncertainty, expense and delay that would result from further litigation,” the joint motion for preliminary approval noted. “At the same time, class counsel believe the settlement achieves an excellent result and is in the best interests of the settlement class members, and the parties believe it should ultimately be approved by the court as fair, reasonable and adequate in all respects.”
Lepage Bakeries became one of Flowers Foods’ wholly-owned subsidiaries in 2012. Since late 2013, Lepage has contracted with independent distributors, including Maine distributors, who purchase distribution rights to sell and distribute products to customers in defined territories. Distributors then enter into distributor agreements with Lepage whereby they are classified as independent contractors. But according to the allegations in the case, the distributor job responsibilities and the reality of the distributors’ working relationship with Lepage went beyond the original distributor agreements, in many cases requiring distributors to arrive at specified warehouses at specified times to stock delivery vehicles, or to deliver products to customers and places at specific times. And because Lepage classifies distributors as independent contractors, no overtime was paid, which the plaintiffs sought to recover as part of the lawsuit.
Flowers Foods and the plaintiffs engaged in significant settlement discussions for more than two years, while continuing to litigate the case, before ultimately reaching a settlement on Oct. 22.