Last week, Judge David Proctor issued a decision in a Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) case, which provides a warning to employers who want to litigate claims “as a matter of principle.” See Lopez-Easterling v. Charter Communications, Inc., No. 2:14-cv-01493-RDP, 2017 WL 6406520 (N.D. Ala. Dec. 15, 2017). Karen Lopez-Easterling sued her employer, Charter Communications, for overtime violations. On May 18, 2017, a jury awarded her $5,355.72 as payment for those violations.
The FLSA permits a “prevailing party” to recover their attorneys’ fees. Ms. Lopez-Easterling’s three attorneys spent 507.8 hours working on the case at rates between $325.00 and $450.00 per hour. Thus, they asked Judge Proctor to award them $215,685.00 in attorneys’ fees.
Judge Proctor’s opinion largely granted the request for fees. After some additions and a few reductions, Judge Proctor awarded $211,710.00 in fees. The opinion strongly suggests that Charter Communications’ attitude towards the litigation influenced the fee award. Judge Proctor discussed the fact that Charter “made crystal clear that it had no interest in resolving the case and exercised its right to ignore all of Plaintiff’s proposals.” He also noted that Charter brought a “contest everything” approach to the litigation. Finally, Charter’s own communications with the Judge during pre-trial conference may have been the deciding factor:
[Charter] had multiple opportunities to resolve this case prior to trial and chose not to do so. [Charter] stated that it was not interested in settlement and was trying the case on principle. In light of that position, the court gave [Charter] a warning that went something like this: “you have the absolute right to take that position, but if you lose at trial — in for a dime, in for a dollar.”
Clients frequently want to go to court “as a matter of principle.” But, principles can frequently be costly. In this case, Charter could have settled for a relatively small payment early in the litigation, and avoided the substantial fee that Judge Proctor required after trial. Instead, Charter will face a triple-threat of losses: (1) $5,355.72 in overtime payments; (2) $211,710.00 in payments to the employee’s attorneys; and, (3) payments to their own attorneys of at least that amount.