A recent Law 360 story by Cara Salvatore, “Wells Fargo Rips $1.6M Fee Bid in Disability Suit,” reports that Wells Fargo urged a California federal court not to add $1.6 million in legal fees to a jury's $500,000 award for a former portfolio manager who was fired after returning from medical disability leave. Patricia Samson won $100,000 in compensatory damages and $400,000 in punitive damages when a jury found that the bank committed disability-based discrimination when it fired her after she returned from medical leave related to endometriosis.
"The only reason this case even went to trial was because plaintiff and her counsel continually refused to settle for less than millions of dollars," Wells Fargo said. "Now, having garnered a small recovery on only one of her five claims, plaintiff has applied for more than $1.6 million in attorney's fees. The request is excessive in every respect." Lawyers' market rates in single-plaintiff employment cases should be in the neighborhood of what Wells Fargo paid its own lawyers in this case, it said, which was $465 an hour for partners and $350 an hour for associates.
Samson's two lawyers at Law Offices of Victor L. George have requested $1,050 and $825 per hour, respectively, plus a doubling after that. They told the court earlier this month, "Without an expectation that a realistic and fair 2.0 multiplier would be awarded, a firm such as LOVG would never agree to take a contingency case that carried significant risks — much less the flashing red lights presented here."
Wells Fargo told the court that in the lawyers' fee request, "two partners attended and billed for tasks that no paying client would permit." It said the firm's calculation actually merits a "negative multiplier" rather a doubling, "to account for the fact that plaintiff (1) lost on [four-fifths] of her claims and (2) could have obtained a larger net recovery by accepting a reasonable settlement and avoiding trial altogether."