Second District, Division One Sustains Fee Award Based on Plaintiff’s Success in a Jury Trial.
In our August 10, 2008 post, we discussed the unpublished decision of Naidu v. Cal. Pub. Util. Comm’n. That case relied extensively on Cummings v. Benco Building Services, 11 Cal.App.4th 1383, 1387 (1992), which held that attorney’s fees should normally be awarded in favor of a prevailing plaintiff under California’s Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA) fee-shifting provision (Government Code section 12965(b) “unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust.” Cummings was followed recently by the Court of Appeal in affirming a substantial plaintiff fee award in the next case we explore.
Plaintiff, a Los Angeles school district employee with a physical disability, sued the School District under FEHA, alleging three claims: (1) disability discrimination; (2) failure to reasonably accommodate; and (3) failure to engage in the interactive process. A jury deadlocked on the first two claims (which were dismissed), but found for plaintiff on the third claim, awarding $380,306 in damages. Subsequently, the trial court awarded plaintiff $21,836 in costs and $568,108 in attorney’s fees. After District brought a post-trial offset motion that was denied, the trial judge awarded plaintiff another $1,500 in additional attorney’s fees.
School District appealed both the merits and posttrial rulings, losing across the board.
The Second District, Division One—in a 3-0 decision authored by Justice Rothschild—affirmed in Schermerhorn v. L.A. Unified Sch. Dist., Case No. B196937 (2d Dist., Div. 1 Sept. 19, 2008) (unpublished). Relying on Cummings, the appellate panel agreed with the trial court’s assessment that plaintiff obtained total success on one claim, which means the award did not have to be reduced for having not prevailed on the two dismissed claims. Beyond that, plaintiff was entitled to attorney’s fees for sustaining his damage and fee recovery on appeal.