Time & Attendance
By Staff Report
Aug. 21, 2013
While employed as an electrical line worker for Consumers Energy Company from 2001 through 2005, Theresa Waldo claimed that she suffered the following incidents of sexual harassment, about which she complained to her supervisor, union rep, and HR manager, each of whom allegedly ignored her:
Based on the foregoing, a jury awarded Waldo $400,000 in compensatory damages and $7,500,000 in punitive damages on her sexual harassment claim. Applying Title VII’s damage caps, the trial judge reduced those awards to a combined $300,000. In addition to the capped damage award, the judge also awarded Waldo $684,506 in attorney’s fees, which the 6th Circuit affirmed.
Who wins these cases? According to Judge Sutton’s dissenting opinion, it’s the lawyers, not the litigants:
I join all sections of the majority’s opinion save one: its decision to uphold the district court’s award of $684,506 in attorney’s fees—all but $1,000 of the fees requested by Waldo’s attorney without any additional reduction for time or rate, including for all work incurred to lose the first jury trial, all work incurred to lose six of the seven claims (four of them state law claims) and for all work incurred to win $300,000 in the second jury trial. One can be forgiven for thinking that Waldo’s two attorneys, not Waldo, were the true winners. This is good work if you can get it.
Harassment takes a toll. It exacts a high emotional cost on the victim. It exacts a steep legal cost on the company defending a lawsuit that can be salacious and unpopular. Yet, as this case illustrates, the people that often win are the lawyers. It may sound odd for a lawyer to argue against litigation. Yet, as I’ve heard one of my partners espouse more than once, “When you’re litigating you’re losing.” This case is the perfect example. From start to finish, Theresa Waldo spent more than 8 years of her life (from June 2005 until August 2013) litigating. For that time and aggravation, not to mention the on-the-job harassment that she suffered, she was awarded $300,000. Her lawyers, on the other hand, pocketed more than double that amount.
Who really won, and what does this case teach us about the benefit of evaluating the risk of cases and resolving those that have merit.
Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Jon on Twitter @jonhyman.
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