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THOMPSON v. INTERNATIONAL ASSN. OF MACHINISTS

July 10, 1987

Joycelyn A. Thompson, Plaintiff,
v.
The International Association Of Machinists And Aerospace Workers, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

JOYCE HENS GREEN, United States District Judge

 OPINION AND ORDER

 Presently before the court is plaintiff's application for an award of attorney's fees and the parties' respective motions for assessment of costs against one another.

 Plaintiff brought this action against defendant International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) and four union officials alleging that her termination was based on unlawful discrimination and that defendants retaliated against her when she sought to redress this discrimination. In her amended complaint, she alleged violations of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; section 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981; the Ku Klux Klan Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA), D.C. Code § 1-2501 et seq. Prior to trial, the court dismissed her Title VII claims against three of the four defendants. At the conclusion of her trial, the jury found for defendants on the section 1981 claim, and for plaintiff on her section 1985(3) and DCHRA claims, awarding her $ 2,000 in compensatory damages and $ 200,000 in punitive damages on the DCHRA claim. The court reserved judgment on the Title VII claim, and defendants filed a timely motion for judgment nowithstanding the verdict, or, in the alternative for a new trial. Thereafter, the court granted defendants' motion for j.n.o.v. on the section 1985(3) claim, struck the jury's award of punitive damages on the DCHRA claim, and entered judgment in favor of defendants on the Title VII claim. Thompson v. IAM, 614 F. Supp. 1002 (D.D.C. 1985). In short, defendants prevailed on all counts except plaintiff's DCHRA claim, on which she recovered $ 2,000.

 In the pending application plaintiff seeks awards of approximately $ 246,000 in attorney's fees and expenses, and $ 8,000 in costs. She contends that she was the prevailing party, that the DCHRA mandates recovery of attorney's fees for prevailing parties, and that the Act narrowly limits this court's discretion in making such awards. Defendants vigorously dispute these contentions.

 As an initial matter, the court must reject plaintiff's argument that the DCHRA requires courts to award reasonable attorney's fees to prevailing parties and thereby narrowly constrains judicial discretion over such awards. In advancing this argument, plaintiff misleadingly cites the Act for the proposition that:

 
if the court "determines that a respondent has engaged in an unlawful discriminatory practice or has otherwise violated the provisions of this chapter, the [court] shall. . . take such affirmative action, including but not limited to . . . payment of reasonable attorney's fees; and . . . payment of hearing costs."

 Plaintiff's Application for an Award of Attorney's Fees and Expenses at 12 (quoting D.C. Code Ann. § 1-2553(a)(1) (1981)) (emphasis and bracketed language added by plaintiff). In fact, section 1-2553 does not pertain to judicial proceedings at all. Rather, it concerns the decisions and orders of the District of Columbia Commission on Human Rights, and states that where "the Commission determines that a respondent has . . . violated the provisions of this chapter, the Commission shall . . . [award] reasonable attorney's fees." D.C. Code § 1-2553(a)(1) (1981) (emphasis added). *fn1" By contrast, that portion of the DCHRA establishing a private right of action, section 1-2556, states that "the court may grant such relief as it deems appropriate, including but not limited to, such relief as is provided in section 1-2553(a)." D.C. Code Ann. § 1-2556(b) (1981) (emphasis added). By its very terms, therefore, the statute does not purport to strip courts of their traditional discretionary authority over attorney's fees applications, but instead confirms that authority.

 Turning then to the merits of plaintiff's application itself, the threshold question is whether plaintiff was in fact the prevailing party in the litigation before this court. The Supreme Court in Hensley adopted a very liberal formulation of the test governing this determination: "'plaintiffs may be considered "prevailing parties" for attorney's fees purposes if they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.'" Id. at 433 (quoting Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-79 (1st Cir. 1978)). It is true that here plaintiff obtained none of the punitive damages or injunctive relief she sought, that she ultimately failed to prevail on three of her four claims, and that she recovered relatively minimal sums against the defendants. Nevertheless, she did obtain a jury verdict that defendants had discriminated against her, and she did win more than nominal compensatory damages. She therefore did succeed on a "significant issue" and achieved "some of the benefit" she sought in bringing the litigation.

 This finding, however, "brings the plaintiff only across the statutory threshold . . . . It remains for [this] court to determine what fee is 'reasonable.'" Id. at 432. As a starting point, plaintiff's attorneys have submitted a detailed summary of the number of hours they spent on the various phases of this litigation and the hourly rates charged for this work, providing billing statements and other supporting documentation in appendices to the application. Multiplying these figures together produces a "lodestar" amount of $ 204,440.50 for work performed on the merits of plaintiff's case. *fn2"

 As plaintiff's counsel recognize, this calculation provides only an estimate of the "reasonableness" of the fees sought.

 
The product of reasonable hours times a reasonable rate does not end the inquiry. There remain other considerations that may lead the district court to adjust the fee upward or downward, including the important factor of the "results obtained." This factor is particularly crucial where a plaintiff is deemed "prevailing" even though he succeeded on only some of his claims for relief. In this situation two questions must be addressed. First, did the plaintiff fail to prevail on claims that were unrelated to the claims on which he succeeded? ...

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