California Court of Appeal Upholds 30X Attorneys' Fees Award

So, you litigate a discrimination case and you win. The jury's verdict is about $30,000, which probably is considered a low verdict by your client and you. Silver lining - attorneys fees are available. What are the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees awarded in this case? (Insert Dr. Evil impression here:) About one million dollars. (Pause for dramatic effect with the whole pinky under the chin thing). In fairness, the case was litigated for years and a jury did find intentional discrimination in promotional opportunities at the airport.

The Court of Appeal affirmed nearly all the award, holding it was within the trial court's discretion to award the substantial fees based on a "lodestar" formula (the number of hours expended times a reasonable rate). The court rejected the employer's several arguments that fees should be a multiple of three times recovery, allocated in proportion to the time spent on successful claims, etc. The case is Harman v. City and County of San Francisco, opinion here.

The defense's claim that the recovery should limit the fees is supported by case law. But the trial court has discretion to make such adjustments and apparently did not abuse its discretion here. Unfortunately, the employer's settlement offer was close to the recovery. But there is no mention of a statutory offer to compromise, which could have resulted in a lower fee award. Here's a link to my article on the use of offers to compromise under Code of Civil Procedure section 998. Article.