TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR ATTORNEY FEE PETITIONS
Yes, we admit that this is a pet peeve for us. If even a few attorneys submit outlandish fee requests to EEOC, MSPB or arbitrators that will hand those already looking to screw over federal employees great facts to whip up a drive to reduce employee rights—and especially the right to attorney fees. (Even if that group only limited fee reimbursements for union attorneys to the union’s actual hourly cost for their labor it would have a significant effect.) So, we are going to put a spotlight on what we believe to be the kind of facts that are feeding the anti-fed posse.
In this latest case out of EEOC the employee claimed to be the victim of 57 incidents of harassment, but prevailed on only one. She asked for $300,000 in compensatory damages for largely emotional stress but got only $4,000.00. Nonetheless, the employees attorney “bellied up to the bar” with a request for $110,000 in fees. The agency properly pushed back, but did not have to work hard at it because, as the Commission reiterated, “The degree of success is an important factor in calculating an award of attorney’s fees….In determining the degree of success, the Commission will consider all relief obtained in light of a complainant’s goals, and, if a complainant achieved only limited success, she should recover fees that are reasonable in relation to the results obtained….While a reasonable fee should not be determined simply by mathematical formula, hours spent on unsuccessful claims should be excluded from the amount of a reasonable fee….Where the Complainant achieved only limited success. Complainant should receive only the amount of fees that is reasonable in relation to the results obtained.” In this case the Commission only ordered the agency to pay the attorneys $7,900.00 to cover 12.5 hours of attorney time and another 13 of paralegal hours.
Check out Wilda v. Johnson, DHS, EEOC No. 0120142660 (2016) for more details if you are interested—and we hope that a lot of attorneys practicing on behalf of feds are interested. The “Joe Plumber’s” of the world are going to fall right in line with some politician grandstanding about six-figure attorney fee checks for feds that only win small amounts of money or lose the vast majority of their complaint. The EEOC has to do its part too in bringing more common sense to these decisions. In another ruling issued the same week as Wilda v. Johnson it gave an attorney $218,000 dollars for getting his client only $25,000 because the Commission rejected the employee’s claims for five of the seven years originally charged. Margaret v. Castro, HUD, EEOC Nos. 0120150433, 0120160089. On top of facts like we outlined in “The $796.00 Per Hour Federal Job” the federal employees are just too exposed on this issue.