March 3, 2014

9TH CIRCUIT ENDORSES LARGE AWARD FOR ATTORNEY FEES FOR RELATIVELY PUNY AWARD FOR PLAINTIFF CLAIM

The case is Muniz v. United Parcel Service [738 F.3d 214], decided on 12/5/13. The facts are that Kim Muniz, who was first promoted to division manager, was subsequently demoted two levels to supervisor. Muniz claimed that a male manager convinced a female district manager to make the demotion. UPS claimed that she was promoted beyond her competencies, and the male manager was the first to recognize it. Muniz claimed sex and age discrimination, as well as retaliation, and requested punitive damages for a willful violation. The district court dropped the age discrimination and retaliation charges, as well as the punitive damages, and only the sex discrimination charge was before the jury.

Muniz won on the sex discrimination claim and the jury awarded $27,280 to Muniz; $9,990 in back pay, $7,300 for medical expenses, and $9,990 in compensatory damages. But that’s not why we’re writing this story. Muniz sought an award for attorney fees totaling $1,945,726.50 the court approved $697,971.80. The formulas for computing such awards are complex. However, the tables below show what the proposal was (top) and what the district court allowed (bottom).

Original Request
Attorney
Hourly Rate
Hours Billed
Total Fees
Stephen Jaffe
$650.00
1,610.8
$1,047,020.00
Daniel Zaheer
$350.00
395.2
$138,320.00
Kathryn Landman
$290.00
28.1
$8,149.00
Susan Jaffe
$195.00
531.6
$103,662.00
Subtotal 

$1,297,151.00
Subtotal x Proposed 1.5 Lodestar 

$1,945,726.50
District Court Award
Attorney
Hourly Rate
Hours Billed
Total Fees
Stephen Jaffe
$445.00
1,288.64
$573,444.80
Daniel Zaheer
$350.00
395.2
$138,320.00
Kathryn Landman
$230.00
28.1
$6,463.00
Susan Jaffe
$130.00
425.28
$55,286.40
Subtotal 

$773,514.20
Subtotal x Lodestar Reduction of 0.1 

$696,162.78
Non-statutory costs
$1,809.02
Total award
$697,971.80

In its appeal to the 9th Circuit, UPS argued the district court abused its discretion in calculating the dollar amounts and hours claimed. UPS also argued that even if properly calculated, not all of the hours should have counted because only one of the claims was won. The 9th Circuit ruled that the hours for what was won and lost were inseparable and the district court award was upheld.

But wait — it gets better (or worse depending on which side you’re on). The case now gets remanded back to the district court to calculate attorney fees for winning on the appeal. Wonder what happens if such a case goes to the Supreme Court. As a final thought, attorney fees do belong to the plaintiff, so I wonder how Muniz and her attorneys will treat each other in that breakdown.

by Art Gutman, Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology

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