Trial Court’s Lodestar Calculation and Failure to Apportion Were Correct.
For those of you practicing employment law, you know by now that many of the Labor Code sections involving wage/hour and meal break violations carry mandatory fee-shifting statutes generally favoring the prevailing plaintiff. Usually, the battle is how much, what if, once liability is established or a settlement is reached. That gets courts into calculating the lodestar and then making any positive or negative enhancements. However, substantial fee awards are made all the time, as the next decision shows.
Worden v. Solid Rock Construction, Case No. A124514 (1st Dist., Div. 3 Mar. 30, 2010) (unpublished) concerned 5 employees seeking to recover for wage/hour violations (including penalties) and for meal break violations. After a jury returned partial special verdicts on liability in plaintiffs’ favor, the parties reached a settlement for $40,000, reserving the issue of fees and costs for a later court determination. Plaintiffs sought $196,626.16 in fees and costs, requesting no multiplier if the entire request was granted (but asking for a 1.5 multiplier if the lodestar hours were reduced). The lower court awarded $164,421.16 as statutory fees and costs.
Defendant employer first argued that the $350 hourly rate used in the lodestar was unreasonably high. This contention was rejected, because plaintiffs’ attorneys presented declaration testimony that this was a prevailing rate in wage/hour cases and courts in different counties had approved hourly rates ranging from $410-450 per hour in these types of cases.
The defense next argued that the lodestar was too high because plaintiffs only partially prevailed on their claims. True enough, said the appellate panel, but no apportionment was required because the various legal theories shared a common core of facts—employer’s employment practices during the execution of a public works project, with no allocation required between successful and unsuccessful claims.
Beyond that, plaintiffs’ attorneys did exclude some of the work spent on unsuccessful claim from their lodestar claim, fully satisfying exclusion of work on related unsuccessful claims that at least one decision said needed to be done. (Harman v. City and County of San Francisco, 158 Cal.App.4th 407, 417 (2007).) Also, the lower court did reduce the lodestar request and properly refused to award a multiplier, showing that its award was hardly an abuse of discretion.