A recent Law 360 story by Craig Clough, “Attys in Historic $508M Title VII Win Want Bigger Lodestar” reports that attorneys representing a class of 1,100 women in a long-running lawsuit against Voice of America asked a D.C federal judge to grant them a lodestar enhancement, arguing the extraordinary legal work that spanned four decades and resulted in a record $508 million settlement calls for such a boost.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta previously blocked the attorneys' bid for an additional $34 million in fees that would have brought their total award to $75 million. Since that 2020 ruling, the parties have reached a deal on a $19 million lodestar fee award, but the class attorneys asked the court to grant an enhancement up to 4.5 times that amount.
The extraordinary if not unprecedented circumstances of the lawsuit and the record-breaking settlement amount for a case brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act supports the enhancement, class attorneys at Steptoe & Johnson LLP said in the motion. Steptoe & Johnson is one of many firms that represent the class.
"If ever such a case for enhancement was presented, it is this one where, through superior lawyering and incredible determination, counsel was able to achieve — by far — the largest class-wide recovery and largest individual class member recoveries for employment discrimination in the history of the Civil Rights Act," the class attorneys said.
A group of journalists in 1977 sued Voice of America and its former parent agency, the U.S. Information Agency, in a case that eventually covered discrimination claims between 1974 and 1984 and more than 1,000 plaintiffs. The government disputed the accusations for more than 20 years ahead of the 2000 settlement.
Bruce Fredrickson of Webster & Fredrickson PLLC led the representation of the class for more than four decades. The lodestar motion said he was assigned to the case as a young associate at Hudson Leftwich & Davenport fresh out of law school, and he has remained on the case ever since. He drafted the initial complaint for lead plaintiff Carolee Brady Hartman and first motion to certify the class before losing at trial in1979, according to the motion. When Hudson Leftwich declined to take up the appeal, Fredrickson represented the women in his spare time until he formed his own firm in 1982. He eventually reversed the trial outcome on appeal, according to the motion.
"Hartman went on to become the most successful employment discrimination case in history," the class attorneys said in the motion. "While ultimately requiring additional lawyers engaged in decades of hard work and the resources of additional firms to achieve this result, it was Mr. Fredrickson, with his commitment to excellence, his brilliant strategic decisions, his tenacity in facing off against the best-financed defendant that obstinately refused to accept the judgment of liability, and his sheer perseverance that made this extraordinary success possible."
The class attorneys cited several U.S. Supreme Court cases on lodestar enhancement, including 2010's Perdue v. Kenny A. and 1984's Blum v. Stenson, which said rare and exceptional legal representation can support an enhancement. "After decades of hard-fought litigation and unsurpassed results, it is clear that this is the rare and exceptional case which unambiguous Supreme Court precedent firmly establishes as appropriate to compensate plaintiffs' counsel for superior lawyering by awarding an enhancement above their lodestar fees," the class attorneys said. The motion concluded with the class attorneys saying, "The greatest result in the history of Title VII deserves nothing less."