$509,231 Scaled Back By Trial Court, But Sustained On Appeal.
Here is an interesting substantial fee award. Half of what plaintiff requested, but way above the $95,000 Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offer eventually accepted in the case on the eve of trial. Goes to show that fees do not have to be proportionate to compensatory damages (not the same analysis employed in a punitive damages context), especially where the defense litigated vigorously so as to increase fees for everyone.
In Gonzalez v. Buffalo Inn, Inc., Case No. E049393 (4th Dist., Div. 2 Dec. 30, 2010) (unpublished), plaintiff accepted defendants' 998 offer of $95,000, plus attorney's fees and costs, one day into a jury trial on sexual harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination, and related claims, after defendants obtained a reversal of a default judgment at an earlier juncture. Plaintiff then moved for fees of $509,231 under fee-shifting statutes, but the court actually awarded fees of $254,615.50.
But were unsuccessful.
Defense litigation tactics contributed greatly to the difficulties encountered by plaintiff in pursuing her claims, a factor weighted heavily by the appellate court in affirming the fee award. It also did not believe the default judgment fees should be taken out of the equation; after all, give us all a break—the defense could have been knocked out of the box at the outset except for the reversal of the default judgment. (Notice some equities here.) Given that the trial court did reduce the fee request significantly, nothing in the case law required that the fee award be proportionate to the compensatory award, whether under a 998 acceptance or otherwise. (See Bernardi v. County of Monterey, 167 Cal.App.4th 1379, 1398 (2008).) This means the fee award was no abuse of discretion under the deferential review standard.