In Muniz v. United Parcel Services, Inc., the Ninth Circuit ruled that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the prevailing plaintiff $697,972 in attorneys’ fees where the jury awarded her only $27,280 in damages on a single FEHA claim.
UPS brought the appeal and claimed that the lower court abused its discretion by awarding such huge attorneys’ fees. UPS argued that all but one of plaintiff’s many claims had been defeated or dropped prior to trial and that, therefore, plaintiff enjoyed only “limited success” in her action. The Ninth Circuit disagreed with UPS’ position, citing the trial court’s broad discretion in determining and calculating an award of attorneys’ fees. The Court ruled that the trial court can properly award attorneys’ fees spent on all claims — even the unsuccessful ones — where “it does not appear that either party could segregate hours spent exclusively on the unsuccessful claims.”
The Muniz case is yet another illustration for why California employers must take employment discrimination seriously. It’s not enough to have strong EEO policies. It’s not enough even if you prevail on five out of six of your employee’s claims. On the sole surviving claim, even if you convince the jury to award the plaintiff only a tiny fraction of the damages she was seeking, that’s still not enough. You can still be held liable for huge attorneys’ fees awards for a relatively tiny violation.
You can find the Ninth Circuit’s full decision here.