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Brooklyn federal judge awards $3.7 million in attorney’s fees in FDNY suit

Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis. File photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The lawyers representing defendants in a discrimination suit against the Fire Department of New York have been granted a multimillion-dollar attorney’s fee award. Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis found that the attorneys were entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees in accordance with the law.

Federal law allows for prevailing attorneys in civil cases to receive reasonable fees and reimbursement for reasonable costs. In this case, the law firm Levy Ratner, Scott + Scott and the Center for Constitutional Rights intervened in a suit filed by the United States Department of Justice  against the FDNY challenging two written FDNY exams from 1999 and 2002.

The original allegation was that the exams resulted in a disparate impact on the number of blacks and Hispanics applying to the FDNY. This charge was expanded to include a claim that FDNY hiring practices intentionally discriminated against blacks and Hispanics.

In a 2011, Garaufis found racial discrimination in the FDNY’s written entrance exam as well as other FDNY hiring practices. He ordered a court monitor to oversee the process and ensure that the city and the FDNY were insuring the steps necessary to eliminate hiring discrimination.   

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals found error in Garaufis’ ruling and reversed the holding that FDNY’s hiring practices caused a disparate impact on black and Hispanic firefighter hires.  Garaufis’ finding that the FDNY’s written exams were invalid still stands.

Throughout the lengthy legal process, the intervening attorneys “worked tirelessly in the name of civil rights, and worked without remuneration,” Garaufis wrote.

For a case where the attorneys and their clients were “subjected to continuous negative press questioning their motives and berating their efforts to end discrimination,” Garaufis found it “appropriate to award partner-level rates higher than those typically awarded.”

Using a comparison of rates generally awarded in the Eastern District and by Brooklyn federal judges, Garaufis reasoned that a rate of $125 per hour for law clerks, $90 per hour for paralegals and $550 per hour for partner-level attorneys was just.

The city argued that as the attorneys here intervened in a Department of Justice case, the tasks completed were mere duplications of prior work by the DOJ. Garaufis acknowledged some “duplicative efforts,” and reduced the requested fees by 10 percent for duplicated work.  

The city also argued  that the organizations had overstaffed many aspects of the case, including, for example, depositions and court appearances. This case “has required extraordinary effort and skill” and was “highly complex,”  Garaufis noted.  Due to the “extraordinary nature of this litigation,” however, “that use of multiple counsel was largely appropriate” though not always necessary.

In sum, Garaufis reduced the requested attorney fee award from $8,011,600.00 to $3,707,313.29.

"Given the complexities of this case, which culminated in our successful appeal, we are in the process of reviewing the decision and our options," Eric Eichenholtz, chief of the Law Department's Labor & Employment Law Division, said in a statement.

September 4, 2013 - 8:00am


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