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Donna Hofler v. Family of Woodstock

February 16, 2012

DONNA HOFLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FAMILY OF WOODSTOCK, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff commenced this action against her employer, Family of Woodstock, Inc., claiming a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and New York State Human Rights Law § 296. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant violated the anti-discrimination statutes by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation and by removing her from the afternoon shift on account of her disabilities. Plaintiff sought: (1) a declaration that the reduction in Plaintiff's working hours violated the anti-discrimination laws; (2) equitable relief; (3) lost wages and benefits; (4) compensatory and punitive damages (5); and costs, disbursements and attorney fees. After the Court decided Defendant's motion for summary judgment and Plaintiff's cross-motion for sanctions and to strike a document (all of which were denied), see 7/16/09 Dec. & Ord., dkt. # 61, the matter was placed on the trial calendar. On the eve of the first scheduled trial, the parties reported that a settlement had been reached. See 4/23/10 Am. Jud. Dismissing Action by Reason of Settl, dkt. # 81. However, the parties thereafter reported that the terms of the settlement could not be finalized and the matter was restored to the trial calendar. See dkt. # 83-86. After the first selected jury was excused due to objectionable questioning during voir dire, see 2/16/11 Dec. & Ord., dkt. # 122, trial commenced on February 17, 2011 and lasted five (5) days. The matter was presented to the jury on two theories: that the employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to allow Plaintiff to remain on the afternoon/evening shift; and that the employer directly discriminated against Plaintiff on account of her disability by moving her to an earlier shift. The jury found for Defendant on Plaintiff's "reasonable accommodation" claim, and found for Plaintiff on her "direct discrimination claim." The jury awarded Plaintiff $85,000 in back pay, $0 for non-pecuniary damages, and denied punitive damages.

For equitable relief, Plaintiff sought $449,037.52 in front pay, prejudgment interest on the back pay award, and an order:

1. Requiring Defendant to permit Plaintiff to work alone to the same extent that any other any other employee in her position is permitted to work alone.

2. Requiring Defendant to permit Plaintiff to work on any shift to the same extent as any other employee in her position.

3. Requiring Defendant to permit Plaintiff to fill in for vacancies by any other employee in her position.

4. Requiring Defendant to remove the shelves and supplies which are a barrier to Plaintiff's access to the food pantry.

5. Requiring Defendant to permit Plaintiff to apply for any other similar position shift that may become vacant on the same terms as any other applicant.

6. Such other relief as is just and proper.

Before the issues were decided, Defendant offered Plaintiff another position which she accepted, and she then sought $3,031.65 in front pay, together with the other relief. The Court awarded the $3,031.65 in front pay, prejudgment interest based on the rate of return on one-year Treasury bills ("T-bills") for the relevant time period, and granted only Request # 4 from her list, requiring Defendant to remove the shelves and supplies blocking the pre-existing wheel chair accessible entry to the food pantry.

Plaintiff now applies for attorneys' fees and costs, seeking $275,426.00 in attorneys' fees and $10,555.43 in costs. Defendant has opposed the motion.

II. DISCUSSION

"The ADA provides that a district court 'in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee, including litigation expenses, and costs."" Parker v. Sony Pictures Entm't, Inc., 260 F.3d 100, 111 (2d Cir. 2001)(quoting 42 U.S.C. ยง 12205). This language is nearly identical to the analogous provision governing attorney's fees in employment discrimination cases litigated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, . . . and we apply the same standard as under Title VII." Id. A prevailing party is a party who "obtained an enforceable judgment, consent decree, or settlement giving some of the legal ...


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