Ninth Circuit Approves $697,971.80 Attorney Fee Award Even Though Jury Awarded Employee Damages of Only $27,280

Kim Muniz sued her employer United Parcel Service, Inc. (“UPS”) in California State Superior Court for employment-related discrimination in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), Cal. Gov. Code §12900.  UPS removed the case to federal court.  The case was tried to a jury who returned a verdict in Muniz’s favor finding that UPS had discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and awarded her $27,280 in damages.  Muniz, as a prevailing plaintiff under FEHA, sought an award of statutorily authorized attorneys’ fees in the amount of $1,945,726.50.  After extensive argument, the district court awarded Muniz $697,971.80.

UPS appealed the district court decision to the Ninth Circuit.  The sole issue on appeal was whether the district court abused its discretion in awarding Muniz $697,971.80 where the jury awarded her only $27,280.

Relying heavily on the deferential standard of review which gives a trial court broad discretion to set the amount of fees awarded, the Ninth Circuit found that while there “is a disparity between the damages recovered and the fees awarded” it was not convinced that “California law requires the trial court to reduce that disparity.”  The case citation is Muniz v. UPS, No. 11-17282, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 24189 (9th Cir. Dec. 5, 2013).  The full decision can be found here.