claim was frivolous, unreasonable, and groundless.
As discussed above and in the Court's prior opinion in this case, the plaintiff introduced sufficient evidence at trial to permit the jury to decide that the defendant had discriminated against her on the basis of her gender. Indeed, this Court so found when it denied the defendant's motion for a directed verdict at the end of the plaintiff's case-in-chief and again at the close of the trial. The plaintiff introduced evidence that she was paid less than two male vice presidents who were in the same (or lower) cluster as the plaintiff and that the cluster system was designed to ensure that jobs with like responsibilities were paid comparably. In support of her position, the plaintiff also introduced evidence of the Bank's organizational structure as well as anecdotal evidence about problems with women at the Bank. In addition, the plaintiff introduced substantial evidence about her accomplishments and about certain problems reflected in the evaluations of the males to whom she compared herself.
Although the Bank introduced evidence to support its argument that the positions to which the plaintiff compared her job were not comparable, the evidence certainly created a jury question that the jury resolved in the Bank's favor. The plaintiff's position that she was the victim of discrimination was a good-faith claim and by no means frivolous, groundless, or unreasonable so as to justify an award of attorneys' fees and costs to the defendant. Accordingly, the defendant's motion for attorneys' fees and costs is denied.
The final motion before the Court is the plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k) as the prevailing party in a Title VII action. The plaintiff seeks attorneys' fees and costs incurred during three phases of the litigation: the pretrial phase, the trial phase, and the posttrial phase.
The defendant contends that the plaintiff is not entitled to receive compensation for work that was needless, excessive, redundant, or insufficiently documented, that the plaintiff's requested attorneys' fees should be reduced by 50 percent to reflect her limited success at trial, and that the plaintiff is not entitled to nonstatutory costs such as transportation, computerized legal research, and clerical overtime.
In a Title VII action, "the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k); see Grant v. Martinez, 973 F.2d 96, 99 (2d Cir. 1992), cert. denied. sub nom. Bethlehem Steel Corp. v. Grant, 506 U.S. 1053, 122 L. Ed. 2d 132, 113 S. Ct. 978 (1993) (granting attorneys' fees in Title VII action). This provision is to be construed in the same fashion as all other "prevailing party" fee provisions in other federal laws. City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 562, 120 L. Ed. 2d 449, 112 S. Ct. 2638 (1992); Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433 n.7 ("standards set forth in this opinion are generally applicable in all cases in which Congress has authorized an award of fees to a 'prevailing party'"); Lyte v. Sara Lee Corp., 950 F.2d 101, 103 (2d Cir. 1991) (awarding fees in a Title VII case). The defendant does not dispute that the plaintiff is a prevailing party with respect to her retaliation claim and entitled to reimbursement for those fees and costs reasonably expended litigating this claim; however, the defendant contends that the plaintiff should not be compensated for allegedly excessive and unnecessary expenditures of legal time and for fees expended on her unsuccessful discrimination claim.
In order to determine what constitute "reasonable" attorneys' fees, the starting point is the "lodestar amount," which is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate for attorneys and paralegals. City of Burlington, 505 U.S. at 559; Grant, 973 F.2d at 99. The fee applicant bears the burden of submitting contemporaneous time records that support the hours worked and rates claimed. New York State Ass'n for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1147 (2d Cir. 1983). There is a "strong presumption" that the lodestar is reasonable. City of Burlington, 505 U.S. at 557; Lunday v. Albany, 42 F.3d 131, 134 (2d Cir. 1994). The party that asks the court to depart from the lodestar amount bears the burden of proving that such a departure is necessary to the calculation of a reasonable fee. Grant, 973 F.2d at 101.
Here, the plaintiff requests $ 275 per hour for Laura S. Schnell, a partner in the Vladeck law firm; $ 175 per hour for Margaret L. Watson, who served as co-counsel at the trial of this action; $ 175 per hour for other associates who worked on this case; and $ 65 per hour for law clerks and paralegals. The plaintiff's attorney swore in her affidavit supporting the fee application that the requested fees were comparable to the prevailing rates for lawyers, paralegals, and law clerks of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation. (Second Schnell Aff. P 29.) The defendant does not question the reasonableness of the hourly rates the plaintiff has requested, and these rates are supported by the record.
The defendant does challenge, however, the number of hours billed by the plaintiff's attorneys and paralegals. The plaintiff claims that she has made a "good faith effort to exclude from her fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary, " as Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. at 434, requires. The plaintiff has excluded from her request for attorneys' fees and costs numerous items where lawyers or paralegals spent time familiarizing themselves with the case, reviewing billing, and preparing the damages chart for the plaintiff's unsuccessful claim for discrimination. (Schnell Reply Aff. PP 3, 4, 5, and 34.)
After taking these deductions, the plaintiff's requested attorneys' fees are $ 195,977.50: $ 172,137.50 for attorneys' fees incurred during the pretrial and trial phases of the litigation, (Second Schnell Aff. P 38), and $ 23,840.00 for attorneys' fees incurred during the posttrial phase of the litigation, (Schnell Supp. Aff. P 10).
In arguing for the exclusion of certain hours, the defendant first alleges that the plaintiff's lawyers spent an "excessive amount of time on this action" because the case was "substantively straightforward and procedurally routine" and "did not involve novel legal issues or complicated facts." Def.'s Mem. in Opp. to Plaintiff's Application for Attorneys' Fees and Costs at 11-12. ("Def.'s Mem."). Although the case was not particularly complex, "the fact that a case is straightforward is not grounds to reduce a lodestar award." DiFilippo v. Morizio, 759 F.2d 231, 235 (2d Cir. 1985). Having reviewed the lawyers' work on this case and the efficient way in which the case was handled, the Court finds that it is simply incorrect to argue that the amount of time was excessive.
The defendant next argues that it was unnecessary for the plaintiff to have two attorneys present at trial as well as a paralegal, and that two associates needlessly attended mediation sessions, court conferences, witness interviews, and depositions that Ms. Schnell conducted.
The defendant's argument that it was unnecessary for the plaintiff to have two attorneys and a paralegal present at trial is unpersuasive. In New York State Ass'n for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136 (2d Cir. 1983), the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that "prevailing parties are not barred as a matter of law from receiving fees for sending a second attorney to depositions or an extra lawyer into court to observe and assist." Id. at 1146. The use of a second attorney "may be essential for planning strategy, eliciting testimony or evaluating facts or law." Williamsburg Fair Housing Comm. v. Ross-Rodney Housing Corp., 599 F. Supp. 509, 518 (S.D.N.Y. 1984). Here, the plaintiff's attorney Ms. Schnell swore by affidavit that "it was essential to have another attorney present at trial to help formulate cross examination questions, locate documents for cross examination, address evidentiary issues, and formulate strategy." (Schnell Reply Aff. P 3.) This claim seems entirely reasonable, especially given that the defendant called 17 witnesses at trial and the plaintiff had only deposed three of them prior to trial, an efficient use of discovery, which certainly reduced the legal expenses for that stage of the litigation. The defendant's objection is also undermined by the fact that it also had two attorneys at trial: Governor Tipton, the General Counsel for Societe General, assisted at trial and attended all sidebars and Court conferences during the trial. See Bridges v. Eastman Kodak Co., No. 91-7985, 1996 WL 47304, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 1996) (Carter, J.) (awarding fees for more than one attorney present at trial, noting that "attorneys seldom try cases alone; counsel for defendants certainly did not").
The plaintiff's use of a paralegal during parts of the trial was equally reasonable. According to Ms. Schnell's affidavit, the paralegal not only brought research and other needed material to court, but also took notes during important parts of the trial so that the attorneys would have an accurate record on which to base questions at trial and closing arguments. (Schnell Reply Aff. P 5.) In addition, the paralegal fees of $ 1,430 that the plaintiff seeks is substantially less than the cost of a daily transcript of the trial, which the defendant obtained for $ 5,597. (Kalish Aff. P 15.)
The defendant's argument that the plaintiff should not recover the fees requested for the time Mr. Hernstadt, an associate, spent preparing and attending an interview is well-founded; however, this argument is moot because the plaintiff has withdrawn her application with respect to the 2.75 hours Mr. Hernstadt spent in connection with this interview. (Schnell Reply Aff. P 4.)
The defendant also contends that the plaintiff should not recover attorneys' fees for those hours of work that were not documented with sufficient particularity. In order for a party to recover attorneys' fees, it is necessary that the party submit time records that "specify, for each attorney, the date, the hours expended, and the nature of the work done." New York State Ass'n for Retarded Children, Inc., 711 F.2d at 1148; see also F.H. Krear & Co. v. Nineteen Named Trustees, 810 F.2d 1250, 1265 (2d Cir. 1987). The defendant objects to Ms. Schnell's time entries listed as "telephone call," "consultation," and "review of documents," (Second Schnell Aff., Exh. A at 1); 41.5 hours of Ms. Schnell's time and 10 hours of Ms. Watson's time as "trial preparation," (Second Schnell Aff., Exh. A at 4, 12); and the time entries of other associates and law clerks labeled "research," "cite checking," and "file checking," (Second Schnell Aff., Exh. A at 20-22), as insufficiently particular.
The Court agrees that the entries listed simply as "telephone call," "consultation," and "review of documents" are not sufficiently specific so as to enable the Court to determine whether the hours billed were duplicative or excessive. See Pressman v. Estate of Steinvorth, 886 F. Supp. 365, 367 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (holding that plaintiff is not entitled to reimbursement for work described in invoices only as "telephone conversation, "prepare correspondence," or "review of file"). Moreover, given the arguments that the plaintiff's attorneys spent time on an unsuccessful claim, these records do not adequately support plaintiff's claims for fees for this time. Accordingly, 4.25 hours of Ms. Schnell's time is deducted from the plaintiff's fee request.
The Court rejects, however, the defendant's other challenges to the plaintiff's attorneys' time entries. The defendant's attack on the plaintiff's attorneys' entries labeled "trial preparation" are not persuasive. The Court was able to observe first-hand the intense trial efforts expended by all counsel that required not only time in court but preparation. During the course of the trial the Court asked both parties to provide briefs on various legal issues as they arose, and the parties provided such briefs promptly. In addition, it is entirely reasonable that the attorneys and their staff spent hours each night preparing for trial the following day. Although the law clerks' time entries listed as "research," "cite checking," and "file checking" do not themselves indicate what issues were being researched and what documents were being cite checked, it is clear from the time entries as a whole that the work documented in these entries was performed in connection with the preparation of the joint pretrial order and with the trial itself. See Bridges, 1996 WL 47304, at *5 (refusing to reduce fee request for lack of specificity because overall the plaintiff's time records "afforded the court sufficient opportunities to evaluate the reasonableness of each task and the time expended on it").
The defendant's objection to compensation for obtaining and reviewing the transcript in an unrelated case, Neuschatz v. Societe Generale, Jacques Bouhet and Kevin Hughes, Index. No. 13412/91 (N.Y. Co. Civ. Ct. 1991), is not well-founded. In Neuschatz, Mr. Hughes was named as a defendant in a sex discrimination action that alleged that he had retaliated against the plaintiff in that case for her complaints of sexual harassment. Because Mr. Hughes's credibility was critical to the plaintiff's retaliation claim in this case, his testimony in a prior retaliation action was highly relevant to this case. Accordingly, it was reasonable for the plaintiff's attorneys' to spend time obtaining and reviewing the transcript of Neuschatz for possible cross-examination in this case.
In summary, the Court recognizes that before submitting her fee request, the plaintiff reduced the amount of her request for attorneys' fees and costs considerably. The defendant does not dispute that the plaintiff's counsel actually worked the hours for which compensation is sought, nor does it dispute the reasonableness of the rates charged. This case entailed extensive document discovery, several depositions, and extensive briefing both before and during the trial. Because the plaintiff's attorneys effectively and efficiently tried this case, the defendant's objections concerning the calculation of the lodestar are rejected, with the exception of 4.25 hours of Ms. Schnell's time as indicated above. The lodestar is thus $ 170,487.50, and is based on the following figures:
Hours Rate Total
Laura Schnell 264.75 $ 275 $ 72,806.25
Margaret Watson 386.75 175 67,681.25
Edward Hernstadt 74.75 175 13,081.25
Anne L. Clark 9.00 175 1,575.00
John Beranbaum 2.25 175 393.75
Law Clerks 85.00 65 5,525.00
Paralegals 145.00 65 9,425.00
TOTAL FEES: $ 170,487.50
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.