A regular theme on this blog is for lawyers to keep an eye on remedies at all times. A pair of non-precedential Eleventh Circuit cases arising from the same trial illustrate the point. In the first, a fully-tried Title VII sex harassment case ends with a liability verdict against the employer, but with $0 in damages. Yet creative lawyering saves the day, preserving prevailing-party status by obtaining a reformation of the employee's personnel file. In the second, the panel remands for reconsideration of attorney's fees in light of an unaccepted Rule 68 offer of judgment.
There plaintiffs successfully defend a jury verdict totaling $204,000 in a Title VII, Equal Pay Act and Iowa Civil Rights Act case, plus $269,877.67 in attorney's fees. The court casts doubt on the use of a "market forces" defense by employers to justify lower pay for women, yet also holds that if such a defense were valid, the employer presented insufficient evidence to warrant an instruction.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 560 U.S. 242 (2010), held that ERISA plan participants who must sue to obtain review of a benefit denial can be awarded attorney's fees under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1) by achieving "some degree of success on the merits," regardless of whether they ultimately win the whole case. The First Circuit today, in a 2-1 decision, issues the first precedential appellate-level opinion in holding that fees may be awarded even if the participants' entire victory is having their cases remanded back to the plan administrator for reweighing under the correct standard of review.
A senior executive wins a jury trial for retaliation under the ADEA and Massachusetts state law, with an award of back and front pay, emotional distress damages and liquidated (double) damages. The First Circuit substantially preserves the judgment against the employer and affirms injunctive relief to restore plaintiff to the company's benefit plans, though it tamps down the compensatory damage award on grounds of excessiveness.
Last year, in Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 610 F.3d 434 (7th Cir. 2010), the Seventh Circuit affirmed a jury verdict and judgment in favor of the employee in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit. In the follow-on litigation over the award of attorney's fees, the Seventh Circuit vacates the district judge's nearly 50% reduction of the plaintiff lawyer's lodestar amount, creating splits with other circuits about the (ir)relevance of contingency-fee contracts and the so-called "Laffey Matrix" in determining the lodestar rate.
A jury finds that a promising woman neurosurgeon was bumped off-track by a campaign of sex harassment and retaliation, in violation of Title VII and Massachusettes civil rights law. The First Circuit affirms awards of $600,000 against the Hospital in compensatory damages on the retaliation claim and $1,000,000 in compensatory damages against it on the hostile work environment claim (with lesser awards for other state law claims), and $1,352,525.94 in attorneys' fees.
Two circuits weigh in today on the award of attorneys fees, with both outcomes favoring plaintiffs' counsel. One, from the Second Circuit, tackles an unreasonably low $204 fee for a successful trial on a claim of FMLA interference. The other, from the Fifth Circuit, reverses the award of Eastern District of Texas attorneys' rates in a Title VII case to a trial team from Oakland, California, where "an avalanche of unrebutted evidence" establishes that no addition al local lawyers could or would have taken the case.