Muniz v. UPS

When calculating legal fees resulting from an employment discrimination lawsuit, the Court holds within its discretion the ability to evaluate the reasonableness of the attorney’s fees, including seeking verifiable proof or documentation regarding a paralegal’s billable hours and time.

In this case, the employee filed an employment based discrimination claim against the United Parcel Service, alleging in pertinent part claims for employment retaliation, age and gender discrimination, and other employment claims as a result of her employment demotion. The employer UPS alleged that her demotion was the result of her employment based incompetence and had nothing to do with employee’s age, gender or otherwise. The jury found evidence of discrimination, rendering the employee an award of $27,280 and attorney fees in the amount of $697,071.80 pursuant to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).

The Court of Appeals

In evaluating the the lower Court jury decision, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, determined that in evaluating the reasonableness of attorney fees, that the Courts should use what is commonly referred to as the lodestar method, where an attorney’s reasonable hourly rate is determined and multiplied by a reasonable number of hours to calculate the total fees. In this case, the Court found that the use of the lodestar method to be appropriate, and that the plaintiff’s attorneys had submitted reasonable, verifiable and substantive documentation concerning their itemized billable hours, the amount of time involved, and the type of legal activities engaged in.

The significant issue for the Court pertained to the verifiable documentation of the paralegal, where the Court determined that such paralegal failed to submit any verifiable evidence documentation to confirm the appropriate cost for her services. The Court rejected as substantive or verifiable the declaration from another attorney on the basis of hearsay because such statement was merely the paralegal recounting the hours and type of work performed. The significance of this case is that the Court has held that there exists a reasonable and sound basis by which attorney fees may be effectuated, including the specific methodology involved, and the means by which to properly evaluate, assess, and determine the appropriateness of attorney fees. Thus, in the event a client or an attorney has a dispute regarding the reasonableness of legal fees, the Court has an objective means by which to resolve such matters in an amicable way.

Employment based claims involving a large employer requires a law firm that is experienced, competent, and knowledgeable concerning the complexities of employment discrimination claims and the recovery of attorney fees. If you have any employment-related dispute and are considering suing your employer for discriminatory conduct contact the Orange County Employment Lawyers at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside, and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.