Trial Judge Also Properly Awarded $15,000 Supplemental Fees For Posttrial Work.
For those of you not practicing in the employment/FEHA area, civil rights plaintiffs in disability/harassment/failure to accommodate cases are entitled to recovery of attorney’s fees under a pro-plaintiff statutory fee-shifting provision to be construed liberally to allow plaintiff full compensation for prevailing in these types of cases. The fee (which must be reasonable and not inflated or subject to other infirmities) is calculated by using the lodestar, namely the number of hours multiplies by a reasonable hourly rate for practitioners in the community where the case was venued, augmented or decreased by certain enhancement factors (with the lodestar sometimes adjusted upward for the plaintiff’s attorney carrying the risk of the case on a contingency basis). These principles were well summarized and at play in Estelle v. Los Angeles County MTA, Case No. B268085 (2d Dist., Div. 7 Nov. 17, 2017) (unpublished), authored by a 3-0 panel by Justice Segal.
In Estelle, Plaintiff, an MTA business driver obtained a jury verdict of $625,000 in a disability/failure to engage in interactive process case. Under the FEHA fee-shifting statute, plaintiff then requested total fees of $1,171,128, which was inclusive of a 1.75 positive multiplier enhancement. The lower court reduced the base lodestar by 25% for plaintiff’s unsuccessful work on some claims, but did positively adjust the reduced lodestar through an award of a positive 1.5 multiplier—resulting in a total fee award of $752,925.92. Later, plaintiff requested supplemental fees of $75,640.50 (lodestar plus a positive 1.5 multiplier request) for posttrial work, but the trial judge found this excessive and awarded $15,000 instead. All this prompted an appeal by the defense.
Nothing changed on appeal. The 1.5 multiplier was no abuse of discretion especially given that the case was taken on a contingency basis and the lawyering was found to be acceptable. Supplemental fees for posttrial and appellate work are allowed under interpretative case law, with the trial judge exercising judgment in reducing for what he deemed to be excessive work when fashioning his $15,000 award.