This case was brought on behalf of a class of 72 female sales professionals employed by clothing retailer John Varvatos Enterprises, Inc. (Varvatos), alleging that Varvatos’s clothing allowance policy, which included giving free clothing to male sales professionals but not female sales professionals, violated various federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Knox v. John Varvatos Enterprises Inc., No. 17 CIV. 772 (GWG), 2021 WL 95914, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 12, 2021).
The case went to trial, and the jury found for the plaintiffs on all counts, awarded the compensatory damages sought by the plaintiffs, and awarded punitive damages. The court entered judgment in the amount of $3,516,051.23. See id. at *2.
Varvatos moved for judgment as a matter of law, a new trial, or remittitur. Knox v. John Varvatos Enterprises Inc., No. 17 CIV. 772 (GWG), 2021 WL 608345, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 17, 2021). In the meantime, Varvatos declared bankruptcy, though the bankruptcy court lifted the automatic stay as to the case. Id. The court denied the motion for a judgment as a matter of law, but it ordered a new trial on compensatory and punitive damages, unless the plaintiffs accepted a remittitur of 50% of the total damages award. Id. The plaintiffs accepted the remittitur, and the court entered an amended judgment in the amount of $1,758,025.61. Id.
The plaintiffs subsequently moved for attorneys’ fees of $1,730,304.50 and costs of $14,287.21 pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (federal Equal Pay Act), 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (Title VII), and state law. Id. The plaintiffs contended that their counsel spent 5,035 hours litigating the case and requested hourly rates from $475 for senior counsel to $160 for the paralegal. Id. at **4, 7.
In determining the appropriate amount of attorneys’ fees, the court noted that 2,225 hours (44%) were unaccounted for in the plaintiffs’ overall summary, which the court “assume[d]” was time spent on discovery. Id. at *7. The court also “rel[ied] to some degree on [the court’s] own litigation experience to determine the appropriate number of hours,” and noted that 5,035 hours was twice to four-times the average hours awarded in similar cases. See id. at *9. The court was also guided by the principle that it must “‘step[ ] into the shoes of the reasonable, paying client, who wishes to pay the least amount necessary to litigate the case effectively.’” Id. at *4 (quoting Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Ass’n v. Cty. of Albany & Albany Cty. Bd. of Elections, 522 F.3d 182, 184 (2d Cir. 2008)).
The court rejected Varvatos’ argument that it should not award fees for time spent on unsuccessful motions. Id. at *8. The court also rejected Varvatos’ argument that the remittitur reducing damages by 50% bore on the plaintiffs’ degree of success, and that attorneys’ fees should be correspondingly reduced. Id. at *3. Finally, the court rejected the argument that it should reduce fees because the fees are disproportionate to the damages award, and cited several cases in which attorneys’ fees were significantly higher than the damages award. Id.
Ultimately, the court awarded 50% of the fees the plaintiffs sought for a total of $854,201.42: $748,321.21 in statutory fees and costs to be paid by Varvatos and an additional $105,880.21 in fees to be paid from the damages verdict allocated to punitive damages. The court awarded the named plaintiff a service payment of $20,000, down from the requested $300,000.
The court’s order granting attorneys’ fees and costs is currently being appealed.