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Jury Award of $27,000 and Attorney Fees of $700,000 in a FEHA case approved by Ninth Circuit

Muniz v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (2013) 738 F.3d 214

Jury Award of $27,000 and Attorney Fees of $700,000 approved by Ninth Circuit in a FEHA case.

Plaintiff sued Defendant employer alleging that her demotion was result of gender discrimination, unfair retaliation, and age discrimination, in violation of FEHA, inter alia. The jury returned a verdict in Plaintiff’s favor finding discrimination based on gender and awarded the Plaintiff $27,280 in damages. Plaintiff requested an award of $1,945,726.50 in attorney fees. After extensive argument, the district court awarded $697,971.80 to the Plaintiff. Employer appealed.

The issue before the Ninth Circuit was whether the District Court abused its discretion in awarding Plaintiff $697,971.80 as Attorney Fees when the jury had awarded only $27,280 as damages.

The Ninth Circuit noted that District court sufficiently explained its reasoning with regard to attorney fee award to permit meaningful appellate review; gave a clear and concise explanation of its reasoning addressing every issue that Defendant employer asked to consider on appeal; and expressly relied on fact that employee “was awarded a minimal amount for her past losses and received nothing for future economic and noneconomic losses, inter alia.  

Accordingly, citing Beaty v. BET Holdings, Inc. (2000) 222 F.3d 607, the Court concluded that,

“[A] trial court does not under California law abuse its discretion by simply awarding fees in an amount higher, even very much higher, than the damage awarded, where successful litigation causes conduct which FEHA was enacted to deter to be exposed and corrected”. (Muniz)