U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant. Courtesy photo

A federal judge in Connecticut has given preliminary approval to a settlement agreement related to overtime pay for 88 former and current General Nutrition Centers employees in the state.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant of the District of Connecticut in a threshold ruling granted class certification to the employees.

The giant health and nutrition chain was sued four years ago by two GNC employees who argued they were receiving overtime pay under federal guidelines, but that the company violated the Connecticut Minimum Wage Act. The federal overtime guidelines are less generous to employees than the state’s minimum wage law.

The tentative agreement calls on the employees, who worked as either store manager or assistant store manager at the company’s 30 Connecticut stores during the period between September 2012 and July 2014, to receive at least $100. Most of the 88 individuals in the class would receive less than $1,000. Sixteen will receive more than $1,000, with the highest amount of settlement monies going to Joseph Bartovic III, who would receive $32,718. Class members have until Oct. 24 to object to the settlement, which is expected to be finalized during a settlement hearing at the end of November. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled earlier on the issue of the wage law with Bryant preliminarily approving the GNC settlement.

“The Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling is important because it enforces Connecticut’s employee-friendly wage law, rather than aligning them with the less-employee friendly federal laws,” said Richard Hayber of the Hayber Law Firm and one of three lawyers who brought the suit on behalf of now former employees Cole Williams and Novack Lazare. “We are a blue state and we have employee-friendly laws and this is one of them.”

Hayber added: “This ruling from the Supreme Court affects more than 88 people, it affects every manager in the system throughout GNC in Connecticut, as well as employees in the mercantile industry at other companies in the state.”

The employees had been paid overtime using the federal fluctuating workweek method by dividing their weekly wages by the total number of hours worked during the workweek and paying a premium of 0.5 times that rate for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours during that workweek, in addition to their weekly wages. The state requires employees to divide the weekly pay by the number of hours worked in the usual workweek (for example they might work 45 hours in a usual week), rather than how many hours they actually worked that week. The methodology is complicated, but Hayber said, “The result is a higher overtime rate for employees in the state under the state method.”

The plaintiffs sued for back pay, interest and penalty damages.

Williams and Lazare, who filed the lawsuit, no longer work for GNC. Williams worked out of two Connecticut stores in Orange and Farmington from January 2013 through November 2014. He will receive $444 plus an incentive award for being a plaintiff in the suit if the settlement is finalized. Williams was both a store manager and assistant store manager.

Lazare worked for GNC out of the Newtown and North Haven stores from October 2013 through June 2014. He was a store manager and is entitled to receive $102 under the tentative settlement plus an incentive award.

“I expect the settlement to be finally approved. The only thing that can derail it now are objections from the class members, which we do not expect,” Hayber said.

Robert Pritchard of Littler Mendelson represents GNC. Pritchard declined to comment Friday.

Hayber was assisted by Stephen Fitzgerald and Joshua Goodbaum, both of the New Haven-based Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti.