January 21, 2020
A recent Law 360 story by Vin Gurrieri, “Attys Behind $77M Virgin Wage Win Sought $13M Get $6M,” reports that lawyers for Virgin America flight attendants who recently won $77 million over claims the airline stiffed workers on pay and rest breaks were awarded nearly $6 million in fees by a California federal judge, which was about half the amount they had requested. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar awarded $5.7 million to attorneys representing a class of flight attendants led by named plaintiff Julia Bernstein who alleged that Virgin America Inc. flouted California labor laws by not paying them for all hours worked, including pay for overtime, and denying them state-mandated meal and rest breaks.
After having largely granted the flight attendants' bid for summary judgment, Judge Tigar a year ago awarded the flight attendants $77 million in damages. The airline has since challenged the award to the Ninth Circuit, an appeal that is still pending. In the meantime, Judge Tigar issued an order finding that the class members' legal representatives were due almost $6 million in fees and an additional $251,000 in court-related expenses. That number, however, fell short of the approximately $13 million in fees and expenses the lawyers had sought.
Judge Tigar agreed with Virgin that class counsel didn't provide enough detail about certain declared hours and sided with the company in its objection to certain categories, like one labeled "other," that were billed in blocks. "Virgin takes issue with plaintiffs' use of an 'Other' category, which accounts for 148.1 hours of the fee request," the judge said on the latter issue. "Given that plaintiffs neglected to identify even representative examples of the types of tasks included, the court cannot award fees for those hours. The court therefore excludes all 148.1 hours from the fee request."
The judge also shaved the billing rates of several attorneys representing the class but rejected Virgin's arguments that the class members' failure to win on certain claims warranted a significant reduction in fees awarded, leading him to arrive at the $5.7 million figure. "Ultimately, the court finds that the hours expended were reasonable in light of the overall success achieved, and agrees that success was exceptional," Judge Tigar said.