April 25, 2022
A recent Law 360 story by Matthew Santoni, “Judge Calls Out Atty Gender Pay Gap in $760K Fee Award” reports that Console Mattiacci Law LLC will collect almost $765,000 in fees for winning a $2.3 million age-bias suit against AT&T Mobility Services, after a Pennsylvania federal judge slightly trimmed the firm's requested hours and rates but noted that a less-experienced female shareholder deserved the same hourly rate as her older male co-counsel.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice noted the legal industry's gender pay gap in his opinion awarding Laura Mattiacci and Susan Saint-Antoine the same $700-per-hour rate as firm founder Stephen Console for their work in securing a jury verdict for Alison Ray, saying they hadn't shown why the court should have awarded Console the requested $900 per hour and the others $730 per hour.
"Saint-Antoine and Mattiacci are entitled to the same rate as fellow shareholder, Console, who served solely as a consultant on the case. Historically, women in law earn less than their male counterparts, a discrepancy that may reflect hidden bias. Saint-Antoine's experience and expertise on several of the pre-trial motions was critical in allowing the case to move to trial and Mattiacci's courtroom skills were pivotal to Ray's successful verdict," Judge Rice wrote. "Attorneys of comparable skill and ability merit equal compensation without regard to gender or age."
The court's order trimmed Ray's request for $847,945 in fees to $764,825 by cutting the lead attorneys' hourly rates to the top level recommended by Community Legal Services, and also by cutting out hours spent on unsuccessful motions and work representing Ray in another plaintiff's age-discrimination case against AT&T. The court awarded nearly $39,000 for costs, which AT&T did not contest. Ray, a former sales director at AT&T Mobility Services, won $2.3 million in December 2021 after a jury found the company's "Workplace 2020" restructuring plan targeted older employees as "surplus," cut their positions and forced them to apply for different jobs if they wanted to keep working. Ray was 49 when she was laid off.
AT&T challenged many of the hours that Console Mattiacci said it had put into the case, but the judge generally supported charging for most of the work the attorneys had put in. Factual distinctions between Ray's case and those of other AT&T employees that the firm represented in other cases meant that attorneys didn't get to reuse parts of the other employees' complaints, or recycle arguments and hours spent on their motion for summary judgment, Judge Rice said. The attorneys' work on "mock trial" versions of the opening and closing arguments were also justified, Judge Rice said, even if the practice versions were done by another attorney on the case and had come before motions for summary judgment that could have precluded the need for trial.
"Mock trial preparation is an indispensable part of litigation. Sharpening advocacy skills in advance of trial is as important as effective legal research and writing. One cannot exist without the other in a courtroom. ... This is often overlooked or underestimated in fee litigation," Judge Rice wrote. Although Ray's team took a risk in conducting the mock trial that early, he wrote, it worked in their favor because they ultimately prevailed over AT&T's motion for summary judgment, making the trial preparation necessary.
He did cut out an hour spent by a fifth attorney at the mock arguments, and cut down Console's time charged for the arguments down to an hour and a half to be consistent with the other attorneys on the case. He made other cuts for time spent on motions for protective orders or class treatment that were unsuccessful. The attorneys' requested hourly rates were higher than what was recommended by CLS for typical Philadelphia-area lawyers with their experience, and the affidavits they submitted to support their higher request didn't convince Judge Rice, he said.
"Although Ray contends that the rates requested by Console, Mattiacci, and Saint-Antoine are the same or less than the regular rates charged for their services in non-contingent matters, she fails to present any evidence showing that any client has willingly agreed to pay such rates," the judge wrote. And although both Console and Saint-Antoine would be worth up to $700 per hour on the CLS' recommended scale, Judge Rice praised Mattiacci's work on the case and said she'd earned more than what her experience alone would indicate.
"Although Mattiacci has been practicing law for fewer years than Console and Saint-Antoine and would warrant a rate of $530.00 based on her experience according to the CLS fee schedule, she is entitled to the same $700.00 rate as her fellow shareholder and partner given her expertise and skill as a trial lawyer," he wrote. "Her exceptional advocacy skills helped to persuade the jury to award a significant verdict for Ray in a complex case. ... Even though the CLS fee schedule serves as a useful guide on setting hourly rates, its reference to experience should not serve as a cap that precludes exceptionally talented trial lawyers from receiving fair compensation simply because of age or gender."