Gordon & Rees Atlanta partners, Chad A. Shultz and Leslie K. Eason, and associate, Julia C. Glasgow, recently secured a victory for their client, a medical clinic, in an attorneys’ fees dispute following a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) case.
Plaintiff, a former medical assistant, filed an FMLA claim, seeking monetary damages and equitable relief. The Gordon & Rees team moved for summary judgment. The Court granted summary judgment with respect to all but one of Plaintiff’s claims, allowing only the claim for retaliatory firing to proceed. Notably, the Court foreclosed Plaintiff’s claim for monetary damages due to her outright admission that she had not searched for other employment, and therefore failed to mitigate her damages.
Ultimately, the jury found that there had been a retaliatory firing (Plaintiff was fired upon return from an FMLA leave). Plaintiff then moved for equitable relief, seeking reinstatement, front pay, an injunction against retaliation, and extensive FMLA training for Defendant’s management. Unconvinced, the Court ordered that Defendant provide only the one hour of FMLA training Defendant voluntarily offered, and summarily rejected all other equitable relief.
Plaintiff’s counsel subsequently moved to recover over $165,000 in attorneys’ fees, arguing that he was entitled to same under the FMLA because a judgment was entered in Plaintiff’s favor. The Court reluctantly agreed that, pursuant to the FMLA, it had no discretion to deny Plaintiff some attorneys’ fees. The parties briefed the attorneys’ fees issue extensively. Plaintiff attempted to justify an hourly rate of $550. On behalf of the Defendant, the Gordon & Rees team persuasively argued that opposing counsel should be awarded only a nominal sum given that he recovered no money or other beneficial relief for his client.
The Judge appointed a Special Master to determine the appropriate attorneys’ fees award. The Special Master found that an hourly rate of $350 was appropriate and significantly reduced the number of recoverable hours based on a reasonableness assessment. However, the Special Master did not stop there. Noting that the outcome of litigation is a crucial factor in fee determination, he further slashed the fees based on the poor results Plaintiff’s counsel had obtained. He therefore recommended that Plaintiff’s counsel be awarded a mere $7,500 in attorneys’ fees, a reduction of over 95% from the amount originally sought. In doing so, the Special Master relied specifically on the arguments and authority cited in Defendant’s briefs.