A federal judge in Pennsylvania granted most of the attorney fees requested after an employment discrimination case was resolved with a Rule 68 offer of judgment, despite the defense's argument that one of the attorneys lacked experience in employment cases.
The plaintiff, Cynthia Chaney, sought $38,187.50 in fees and costs, which was contested by Pittsburgh-based vitamin maker HVL Inc. on the grounds that the rate and number of hours requested by her lawyer were excessive.
"Chaney's fee request reflected the work of four individuals, but HVL only contests the rate of attorney Robert Bracken," said U.S. District Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster of the Western District of Pennsylvania in Chaney v. HVL. "HVL argues that this requested $300 hourly rate is inappropriate given Mr. Bracken's 'dearth of experience' in employment cases."
Lancaster disagreed. He held that Bracken's rate was commensurate with his level of experience in litigating employment law in the Pittsburgh area and reduced it by about $2,500.
Chaney had brought claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging that her employer, HVL, had discriminated against her before firing her in violation of the federal acts.
"Both parties agree that the suit was characterized by a 'limited damages profile,'" Lancaster said. Chaney accepted an offer of judgment for $25,000, not including attorney fees, which she could pursue separately.
Of the total 107 hours that Bracken billed, HVL objected to more than half, as well as nearly 20 hours billed by paralegals.
Lancaster agreed with Chaney that the 16 hours Bracken spent generating two pivotal documentsthe charge of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the complaintwere reasonable.
"The standard requires reasonableness, not the bare minimum effort required to complete a given task," Lancaster said. "We will not disallow any of these hours."
He did, however, reduce the number of hours spent on discovery. Bracken had spent 31 hours and a paralegal had spent 14 hours compiling discovery documents.