898 F.2d 1169 (6th Cir. 1990), 88-5727, Wooldridge v. Marlene Industries Corp.

Docket Nº:88-5727.
Citation:898 F.2d 1169
Party Name:Jane M. WOOLDRIDGE, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. MARLENE INDUSTRIES CORPORATION and Russell Sportswear Corporation, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:March 23, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 1169

898 F.2d 1169 (6th Cir. 1990)

Jane M. WOOLDRIDGE, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

MARLENE INDUSTRIES CORPORATION and Russell Sportswear

Corporation, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 88-5727.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

March 23, 1990

Argued Nov. 14, 1989.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied May 24, 1990.

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Robert L. Bertram, Bertram & Wilson, Jamestown, Ky., Donald F. Mintmire, John F. Sherlock, III (argued), Barnett & Alagia, Washington, D.C., for plaintiff-appellee.

Charles Hampton White (argued), Richard L. Colbert, Cornelius & Collins, Nashville, Tenn., Hollis E. Edmonds, Russell Springs, Ky., for defendants-appellees.

Before MERRITT, Chief Judge, KENNEDY, Circuit Judge, and McRAE, Senior District Judge. [*]

KENNEDY, Circuit Judge.

Defendants-appellants Marlene Industries Corporation and Russell Sportswear Corporation, Marlene's subsidiary, 1 appeal the District Court's award of $293,399.24 in Title VII attorneys' fees to the class representative in this class action sex discrimination suit. The suit was brought to challenge the defendants' maternity leave policy, which forced pregnant employees to take a leave of absence for a prescribed period before and after childbirth. The District Court found that the defendants did enforce a policy that violated Title VII, but only at their plants in Tennessee and Kentucky, and only between October 1973 and October 1975. The District Court eventually approved a magistrate's award of $30,011.42 in backpay damages to 38 members of the class. No damages were awarded to the 93 other women--including Wooldridge--who made backpay claims, a decision that was subsequently reversed by a panel of this Court. Since the policy had been discontinued before the action was filed, the District Court did not order injunctive relief. In the instant appeal, the defendants argue that the attorneys' fees awarded by the District Court are excessive since: (1) much of the compensated time was used to litigate the damage claims of persons who were not "prevailing parties"; (2) the District Court did not adequately determine the reasonableness of the hours claimed by the class attorneys; and (3) the hours billed should have been reduced because of the limited number of persons who received backpay awards and because the attorneys' fees far exceeded the damages awarded. For the reasons set forth below, we REVERSE and REMAND for further proceedings.

I. Background

In February 1976, plaintiff-appellee Jane Wooldridge filed suit against her employer, Marlene Industries, alleging that the corporation and its subsidiary discriminated against female employees by maintaining a mandatory maternity leave policy in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e, et seq. 2 Wooldridge brought the suit as a class action on behalf of all past and present employees forced to take pregnancy leave at five specific plants in Kentucky and Tennessee. 3

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In consideration of the statute of limitations, the District Court limited the class to employees compelled to take maternity leave after October 17, 1973.

The District Court divided the litigation into a liability phase and a damage phase. In an April 10, 1981 order, the court held that between October 17, 1973 and October 17, 1975, the defendants enforced a maternity leave policy in their Kentucky and Tennessee plants that violated Title VII. The court declined to enter injunctive relief since it found that the defendants ceased enforcement of their policy shortly after Wooldridge filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in October 1975. The District Court referred the case to a Special Master to "determine what, if any, damages have been suffered by individual members of the class for mandatory maternity leave ... between the dates of October 17, 1973, and October 17, 1975."

At the damage hearings, the class attorneys called individual employees to testify about their damage claims. The magistrate concluded that only 38 of the 131 women who made claims were entitled to awards of backpay. Of the 93 plaintiff class members who were denied backpay, many were placed on maternity leave either before October 17, 1973 or after October 17, 1975. Others had opted out of the class earlier in the litigation. The total amount of backpay awarded was $30,011.42. Subsequent to the filing of the instant appeal, a panel of this Court found that the magistrate incorrectly placed the burden of proof on the class members to demonstrate that they could work during and immediately following their pregnancy. The panel also determined that the magistrate incorrectly required the members of the class to prove that they had made attempts to mitigate their damages. Accordingly, the panel remanded the case for further proceedings. Wooldridge v. Marlene Industries Corp., 875 F.2d 540 (6th Cir.1989). 4

After adopting the magistrate's backpay award, the District Court awarded fees for 1,618.62 of the 1,679.97 hours claimed by attorneys Bertram and Wilson and all of the 1,296.20 hours requested by Barnett & Alagia, plus expenses in the total amount of $293,399.24. No fees were allowed for hours spent on the North and South Carolina cases. 5 The court indicated that Bertram and Wilson's claimed hours were cut because the court had identified additional hours in the itemized bill pertaining to the North and South Carolina cases.

The memorandum accompanying the District Court's order awarding attorneys' fees is fairly brief. The court made the following findings: (1) plaintiff could not recover for work done on the North and South Carolina cases; 6 (2) the motions for attorneys' fees were timely; (3) no enhancement multiplier would be applied to increase the hourly rate; (4) the number of hours claimed for the Kentucky and Tennessee portions of the suit were reasonable; 7 and (5) hourly rates would be set

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according to a fee schedule set forth by the court. In setting the hourly rate for attorneys' fees, the court made two assumptions. First, while the court applied a different hourly rate to the hours claimed by Wilson and Bertram, the court assumed that any hours not identified in their joint billing statement could be credited to Bertram at the higher rate. Second, in awarding fees to the firm of Barnett & Alagia, the court assumed without checking the billing statement that all hours claimed were for attorney time. The defendants object to both of these assumptions. The memorandum did not discuss the degree of success achieved by the class or its relevance to the fee award.

The time records indicate that the court awarded fees for all of the time spent litigating the Tennessee and Kentucky claims in the liability phase and all of the individual backpay claims, regardless of their success, in the damage phase. The defendants argue that a portion of these hours should not have been compensated since the time was used to pursue the claims of the plaintiffs who did not prevail.

Additionally, the defendants argue that the attorneys were compensated for a number of hours: (1) that did not contribute to the success ultimately achieved by the plaintiffs; (2) that were not identified in a manner sufficient to determine what work was done; (3) that were excessive in relation to the work accomplished; and (4) that were performed by a person other than an attorney yet compensated at an attorney's hourly rate. Finally, the defendants argue that the District Court abused its discretion in failing to reduce the award for the limited success achieved.

Initially, we recognize that there may be additional attorneys' fees awarded in this case for work performed after remand by the merits panel. However, the question of whether the fees awarded for certain work done at the time of...

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