The case is Civil Action No. 1977-2019 HARTMAN, et al v. ALBRIGHT, et al (now called CAROLEE BRADY HARTMAN, et al., v. MICHAEL R. POMPEO, et al.,name substituted under under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d)):
This case is in all respects extraordinary. Originating over forty years ago, it represents the largest Title VII sex discrimination class action settlement in United States history. Its over 1,000 class members each received an average of $460,000—the largest per-capita recovery in a case of its kind. Class members are women who sought employment or promotions with the United States Information Agency, a former agency of the United States government, the relevant components of which were incorporated into the State Department. Remarkably, the lead counsel for the class, Bruce Fredrickson, took on the case as a 26-year-old just one year out of law school and, now well into his sixties, has stayed on for its duration. Over the last four decades, Mr. Fredrickson has led a team of over 120 individuals across seven law firms. In 2018, the last of the $508 million settlement fund was distributed to class members, leaving resolution of attorneys’ fees as the sole remaining issue.
Since 1995, there have been 28 interim payments to class counsel for fees, expenses, and interest accrued during the pendency of the case, totaling $26,570,701.19. Plaintiffs now seek an additional $34,114,143.52, for a final total fee recovery of $75,000,000. 2 To justify this demand, Plaintiffs primarily argue that they are entitled to a percentage of the total settlement under a “constructive common fund” theory. Alternatively, Plaintiffs argue that an enhancement to the lodestar is proper because the lodestar calculated for the interim fee petitions does not reflect class counsel’s true market value and it does not adequately compensate them for delay in receiving payment.
For the reasons that follow, the court denies Plaintiffs’ motion without prejudice. This is a fee-shifting case—not a common-fund case—and the parties agreed to use the lodestar method— not the percentage-of-the-fund method—to calculate the final fee award. Although the court agrees with Plaintiffs that the interim lodestar is likely not an adequate measure of class counsel’s true market value, the court is not in a position to award an enhancement because the lodestar, as calculated, is itself inexact. The court is hopeful that this decision will provide a path forward for the parties to reach an agreement on what the proper lodestar should be, as well as any compensation for delay.
…. Plaintiffs need to go back to the drawing board. They bear the burden of “identifying a factor that the lodestar does not adequately take into account and proving with specificity that an enhanced fee is justified.” Purdue, 559 U.S. at 546. Although it is apparent that an adjustment to the lodestar for the eighth through twenty-eighth fee petitions (covering years 1998–2018) is necessary to “approximate[ ] the fee that the prevailing attorney would have received if he or she had been representing a paying client who was billed by the hour in a comparable case,” the court lacks the information necessary to “adjust the attorney’s hourly rate in accordance with specific proof linking the attorney’s ability to a prevailing market rate.” Id. at 551. Furthermore, although some additional compensation is appropriate to account for delay of amounts unpaid, Plaintiffs have not proposed “a method that is reasonable, objective, and capable of being reviewed on appeal” to calculate such amount. Id. Although the court denies Plaintiffs’ request for a final attorneys’ fee award at this juncture, the court hopes that its rulings will assist the parties in reaching a resolution.
Footnote says that multiple judges have presided over this case during its 43-year lifespan. Read here.