Attorney's fees and costs

AuthorAaron B. Maduff
§11.1.1 WHAT AND WHY
§ Title VII Fee-Shifting Provisions
The Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. §1988 permits district courts to award reasonable
  -
suit.’” Texas State Teachers Association v. Garland Ind. School District, 489 U.S. 782, 791-792 (1989).
Title VII is a fee-shifting statute which provides that the prevailing party may recover its attorney’s fees from
the losing party. 42 U.S.C. §2000e-5(k). Title VII states that “the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing
party, other than the Commission or the United States, a reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs.…” Id. Many
state employment discrimination statutes also contain fee-shifting provisions like those in Title VII.
Rule 54(d)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure addresses the award of legal fees. Section (A) of Rule
54 provides that the “[c]laims for attorney’s fees and related nontaxable expenses shall be made by motion unless
the substantive law governing the action provides for the recovery of such fees as an element of damages to be
an element of damages for the jury to decide; this decision is the province of the judge.
   
In Gobert v. Williams
that provided the attorney would receive 35% of any amount recovered, excluding any court-ordered attorney’s fees.
her attorney and protested paying the 35% of her judgment. She argued on appeal that paying 35% to the lawyer
was not within the ambit of Title VII’s provision for “reasonable attorney’s fees.” See 42 U.S.C. 2000e-5(k). The
to pay their attorneys if they lose or if they win.” The court followed the precedent set in Venegas v. Mitchell, 495
U.S. 82, 110 S. Ct. 1679 (1990), which held that an attorney was entitled to an agreed contingency of 40% of a
$2.08 million judgment, even though the lawyer had already received $75,000 as the prevailing party’s attorney
on the fee petition. Based on this precedent, the court enforced the contingency agreement.
Practice Note: Fee shifting as settlement leverage
You should be familiar with the federal and state law governing attorney’s fees in employment discrim-
   
case. The concept of fee shifting can be a powerful tool in the context of settlement.
   
  
mitigated her damages brilliantly, you have a case worth, at best, $50,000.00 under the statutory caps. Assume for
purpose of this discussion that the harasser is judgment-proof, in jail, in a mental hospital, or otherwise pragmat-
   
  
    
through 33 hours on any employment discrimination case, what with depositions and the defendant’s proclivities
for engaging in Rule 56 festivities, happens almost overnight. Before you even recognize the problem, you have
the case to trial and get your full legal fees than to settle, if you are bound into a contingency fee arrangement

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