United States District Court, District of Columbia
A. HOWELL Chief Judge
plaintiff, Doris Nohemi Garcia Hernandez, prevailed at trial
on her claim of pregnancy discrimination and now seeks from
her former employer, the defendant Chipotle Mexican Grill, a
total of $838, 122.00 in attorneys' fees and costs for
2073 hours of billed work. Pl.'s Pet. Att'ys'
Fees & Costs (“Pl.'s Pet.”) at 1, ECF No.
137. The parties agree that the plaintiff is entitled to
attorneys' fees, id., Def.'s Opp'n
Pl.'s Pet. (“Def.'s Opp'n”) at 1, ECF
No. 139, and that most of the fees should be awarded based on
the 2016-17 United States Attorney's Office Fee Matrix
(“USAO Laffey Matrix”), Pl.'s Pet.
at 10; Def.'s Opp'n at 1, but the defendant
challenges a substantial number of hours billed by
plaintiff's counsel as insufficiently documented or
excessive and objects to the application of a higher billing
rate, under Salazar v. District of Columbia, 123
F.Supp.2d 8 (D.D.C. 2000) (“LSI Laffey
Matrix”), for 270 hours of senior attorney work in
final preparation for and at trial. For the reasons set out
below, the plaintiff's petition is granted in large part
and denied in part.
facts underlying the present fee petition are undisputed. For
almost two years, from April 2012, when the plaintiff filed
an EEOC claim against the defendant, until shortly after the
filing of the instant federal action, the plaintiff was
represented, pro bono, by Debevoise & Plimpton
LLP (“Debevoise”) and the Washington Lawyers'
Committee (“WLC”). See Pl.'s Pet. at
8-9; id. Ex. C (Declaration of Peter Grossi, dated
October 5, 2016 (“Grossi Decl.”)) ¶ 1, ECF
No. 137-3; id. Ex. G (Decl. of Christine Tschiderer,
dated October 6, 2016 (“Tschiderer Decl.”))
¶ 16, ECF No. 137-7. In April 2014, two months after
this case was filed, Debevoise withdrew as counsel, due to a
potential conflict of interest, see Notice of
Withdrawal, dated April 16, 2014, ECF No. 12; Tschiderer
Decl. ¶ 16, and soon after, counsel from the firm Arnold
& Porter LLP (“A&P”), entered an
appearance on behalf of the plaintiff, Notice of Appearance,
dated April 23, 2014, ECF No. 13. A&P has provided pro
bono representation of the plaintiff, along with WLC,
for the last three years of litigation, including during
discovery, the defendant's unsuccessful motion for
summary judgment, and at trial.
plaintiff's discrimination case presented particular
circumstances that required significant work and staffing
from plaintiff's counsel. First, the defendant is an
established national corporation headquartered in Denver,
Colorado, while the plaintiff was employed as a
“relatively new serving line worker” at the
defendant's restaurant in Washington, D.C., and as such,
the plaintiff “was not in any position to inform her
counsel on the practices and policies of” the
defendant. Pl.'s Pet. at 4. Consequently, plaintiff's
counsel was required “to expend considerable time and
effort developing and documenting” the “practices
and policies” of the defendant. Id. at 3
(citing Grossi Decl. ¶ 19(c); see also
Def.'s Answer ¶ 10 (affirming that the defendant
“has its corporate headquarters in Colorado”),
ECF No. 15. Second, the plaintiff and other key witnesses in
the case “spoke only Spanish, thereby requiring the
use” of translators throughout the litigation,
Pl.'s Pet. at 3 (citing Grossi Decl. ¶ 19(b)),
increasing the amount of time and preparation required of
plaintiff's counsel. Third, due to “[t]he high rate
of employee turnover at” the restaurant where the
plaintiff worked, “and the fact that at least one key
witness had left the United States entirely, ”
plaintiff's counsel had “to search for remaining
witnesses . . . and ultimately to develop facts through other
witnesses still associated with” the defendant.
Id. (citing Grossi Decl. ¶¶ 19(c)-(d)).
Fourth, notably, the defendant “repeatedly changed its
purported justification for terminating the defendant,
” which required counsel “to investigate and
refute each different theory, primarily through the
examination of” the defendant's own witnesses.
Id. at 3 (citing Grossi Decl. ¶ 19(a)); see
also Def.'s Opp'n at 13. Finally, after the
defendant raised the potential conflict of interest that
required Debevoise to withdraw as counsel two years into the
litigation, A&P had to step in and learn the entire case,
while defense counsel not only had the benefit of those two
years as background in this case, but also has significant
experience representing the defendant in other employment
discrimination cases throughout the country. Pl.'s Pet.
at 4; Grossi Decl. ¶ 19(e) (listing cases).
three years of litigation before this Court that culminated
in a four-day jury trial, the plaintiff prevailed on her
claim that the defendant discriminated against her on the
basis of her pregnancy, in violation of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42
U.S.C. § 2000(e), et seq., and the District of
Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 2-1401.01. The
jury awarded her damages of $50, 000.00 in compensatory
damages and $500, 000 in punitive damages, Compl.
¶¶ 1, 9, 31, ECF No. 1; Judgment on the Verdict,
ECF No. 122, which was later reduced to a total of $390, 000,
including back pay, by joint stipulation of the parties, in
light of the statutory cap on punitive damages, under 42
U.S.C. § 1981(b)(3)(D), see J. Stip., dated
September 9, 2016, ECF No. 131; Minute Order, dated September
9, 2016. The plaintiff timely filed her petition for
attorneys' fees and costs, seeking a total of $838,
122.00 in fees and costs, see Pl.'s Pet. at 1,
which the defendant has opposed in part, see
generally Def.'s Opp'n.
the fee-shifting provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
courts may award “a reasonable attorneys'
fee” to prevailing private parties in any action or
proceeding to enforce equal employment discrimination
statutes. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). In principle,
“[a] reasonable fee is one that is adequate to attract
competent counsel, but that does not produce windfalls to
attorneys.'” West v. Potter, 717 F.3d
1030, 1033 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting Blum v.
Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 897 (1984)).
D.C. Circuit has developed a three-part analysis, the
“lodestar” method, for assessing
“appropriate fee awards under fee-shifting statutes in
cases involving complex federal litigation.”
Salazar v. District of Columbia, 809 F.3d 58, 61
(D.C. Cir. 2015). First, the court must determine the number
of hours reasonably expended in litigation. Id.
(citing Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d
1101, 1107-08 (D.C. Cir. 1995)). Second, it must set the
prevailing market rate, or lodestar. Id.; see
also Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107. Finally, it must
determine whether use of a multiplier is warranted.
Salazar, 809 F.3d at 61. In determining the second
factor of the “prevailing market rate, ” three
sub-elements are relevant: “(1) ‘the
attorney['s] billing practices'; (2) ‘the
attorney['s] skills, experience, and reputation'; and
(3) ‘the prevailing market rates in the relevant
community.'” Id. (quoting
Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107). The prevailing market
rate may be shown using evidence of the “attorneys'
fee matrices, ” the “‘most commonly
used'” of which is the Laffey Matrix,
which “sets out a general guideline for awarding
attorneys' fees based on experience . . . adjusted for
inflation.” Id. at 62 (quoting Eley v.
District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97, 100 (D.C. Cir. 2015).
A “strong presumption” applies “that the
fee yielded by the now-ubiquitous ‘lodestar'
method, which bases fees on the prevailing market rates in
the relevant community, is reasonable.” West,
717 F.3d at 1034 (citing Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel.
Winn, 559 U.S. 542 (2010)).
‘fee applicant bears the burden of establishing
entitlement to an award, documenting the appropriate hours,
and justifying the reasonableness of the rates, ' with
the opposing party remaining ‘free to rebut [the] fee
claim.'” Salazar v. District of Columbia,
809 F.3d at 61 (quoting Covington, 57 F.3d at
1107-08)). At that point, the burden shifts to the opposing
party to “provide specific contrary evidence tending to
show that a lower rate would be appropriate.”
Covington, 57 F.3d at 1109-10 (quoting Nat'l
Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec'y of Def.
(“NASC”), 675 F.2d 1319, 1326 (D.C. Cir.
plaintiff seeks reimbursement of attorneys' fees for 2,
073 billed hours of work totaling $825, 123.00 in
attorneys' fees, which are comprised of: (1) $683, 409.00
for 1517 hours of attorney work and 232 hours of paralegal
work billed at the applicable hourly rated under the 2016-17
USAO Laffey Matrix; (2) $47, 430.00 for 270 hours
billed at the higher LSI Laffey Matrix rate for the
work of the lead attorneys from A&P and WLC in final
preparation for and at trial; and (3) $94, 284.00 for 324
hours of senior attorney work billed at the hourly rate for a
first- year attorney under the USAO Laffey Matrix.
Pl.'s Pet. at 1. Despite the defendant's
characterization of the plaintiff's fee petition as
“excessive and unreasonable, ” Def.'s
Opp'n at 7, the plaintiff does not seek reimbursement for
any of the work done by Debevoise during the entire two year
period during that firm's representation, Pl.'s Reply
Supp. Pet. Fees (“Pl.'s Reply”) at 13, ECF
No. 140, or for 600 hours of time, “including 187 hours
of [lead counsel's] time . . . that arguably was not
fully described, ” in order to “simplify the
bill” and to “avoid  litigation on
litigation.” Pl.'s Pet. at 8-9; Pl.'s Reply at
13-14; Pl.'s Reply Ex. 1 (Excluded Time Entries for
Garcia v. Chipotle (“Excluded Time Entries”)),
ECF No. 140-1. Additionally, the plaintiff concedes that
all but 270 hours should be billed at the 2016-17 USAO
Laffey rate, despite the fact that “this and
other courts have compensated work in Title VII cases at the
substantially higher [LSI Laffey] rates.”
Pl.'s Reply at 14 (citing Makray v. Perez, 159
F.Supp.3d 55-56 (D.D.C. 2016)).
defendant challenges the hours for which the pending fee
petition seeks reimbursement because plaintiff's counsel:
(1) significantly overstaffed the case; (2) improperly billed
for clerical tasks and unsuccessful filings; (3) provided
vague entries in support of the fee petition; and (4) used
impermissible block billing in documenting the hours spent on
defendant also argues that the plaintiff has not justified
application of the LSI Laffey Matrix rate to the 270
hours spent by her two lead counsel in final preparation for
and at trial.
turning to these specific disputes, the Court notes that
“trial courts need not, and indeed should not, become
green-eyeshade accountants” in evaluating the
reasonableness of hours billed, and that the goal of fee
shifting “is to do rough justice, not to achieve
auditing perfection.” Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S.
826, 838 (2011); see also Copeland v. Marshall, 641
F.2d 880, 903 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (“It is neither
practical nor desirable to expect the trial court judge to
have reviewed each paper in this massive case file to decide,
for example, whether a particular motion could have been done
in 9.6 hours instead of 14.3 hours.”). With this
guidance in mind, the defendant's challenges to the hours
billed by plaintiff's counsel and to application of the
LSI Laffey Matrix to a small portion (thirteen
percent) of those hours are addressed.
DEFENDANT'S CHALLENGES TO HOURS BILLED
defendant criticizes plaintiff's counsel's billing
practices as generally “fail[ing] to use billing
judgment, ” Def.'s Opp'n at 1, prompting the
defendant's four principle challenges to the hours billed
and corresponding reductions in the fee petition. According
to the defendant, plaintiff's counsel: (1) used “a
completely unreasonable amount of attorney manpower to pursue
this case, ” Def.'s Opp'n at 6, warranting a
reduction in the plaintiff's requested fee award of $534,
454.00 for 1, 634.99 hours, id. at 18-19; (2)
improperly billed for hours spent on “unsuccessful
filings” and clerical work, warranting a reduction in
the plaintiff's requested fee award of $38, 877.06 for
110.98 hours of work, id. at 25-27; (3) provided
only “vague time entries, ” warranting a
reduction in the plaintiff's requested fee award of $58,
224.60 for 122 hours, id. at 20-21; and (4)
improperly used “block billed entries, ”
warranting a reduction in the plaintiff's requested fee
award of $278, 673.00 for 1, 140.75 hours, id. at
22-23. The defendant does not specify the extent to which
these broad-stroke challenges target the same hours, but the
end result cannot be ignored: the total reductions sought by
the defendant add up to $910, 228.66, which is actually $72,
106.66 more than the $838, 122.00 sought in the
plaintiff's fee petition. In other words, wholly
accepting the defendant's arguments would be difficult to
reconcile with the statutory entitlement of the prevailing
party in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit to reimbursement
of her reasonable attorney's fees. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-5(k). Set against this backdrop, the
defendant's specific arguments are discussed
The Amount of Hours Billed Are Reasonable
defendant takes issue with the staffing of the
plaintiff's case, noting that the fee petition
“includes billing for 10 attorneys” and
“three paralegals, ” Def.'s Opp'n at 6.
According to the defendant, this level of staffing was
“completely unreasonable, ” since a “team
of [two] attorneys and a paralegal was more than adequate to
represent Plaintiff in this matter, particularly in light of
[counsel's] litigation experience and  experience in
employment law.” Def.'s Opp'n at 4; see
also id. at 18-19. While the defendant is correct that
“reasonableness” is “the touchstone for an
award of attorneys' fees, ” Def.'s Opp'n at
5, the defendant fails to demonstrate that plaintiff's
counsel unreasonably staffed the plaintiff's case.
given the complexity of this case, the staffing and time
spent vindicating the plaintiff's civil rights are not
facially unreasonable. As already noted, plaintiff's
counsel surmounted a number of obstacles that made this case
notably challenging, including the plaintiff's limited
familiarity with her former employer's policies and
practices, the location of her former employer's
headquarters and relevant witnesses in Colorado, the need for
translators for the plaintiff and a number of witnesses who
spoke only Spanish, the difficulty in locating witnesses
given the high turn-over rate of employees for the defendant,
the shifting justifications provided by the defendant for
terminating the plaintiff, the withdrawal of Debevoise two
years into the litigation, and the ...