When California employment law claims proceed through trial and are put before a jury, the initial verdict amounts may be subject to modification by the judge based on legal requirements. Often, a jury will agree to award a plaintiff an amount that is prohibited by law. Trial courts have the discretion to reduce jury awards that are inconsistent with the law. The California Court of Appeals recently addressed a case where the trial court had reduced the jury’s award for attorney’s fees to a plaintiff by nearly $700,000, and the plaintiff appealed the reduction.
According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff in the recently decided case was a Black man over 50 who was employed by the defendant, an auto parts store. The plaintiff alleged in his complaint that he was a victim of workplace discrimination and harassment based on his race and age. The plaintiff also claimed that the defendant retaliated against him for making in-house complaints about how he was being treated.
The claims went to trial, after which a jury decided that the plaintiff made a valid claim for retaliation, although the other claims were not accepted by the jury. As part of the jury’s verdict, the plaintiff was awarded nearly $900,000 in attorney’s fees for pursuing the valid claim. After the verdict was awarded, the trial judge reduced the attorney fee award by about $700,000, ruling that only the portion of the fees attributable to the retaliation claim should be awarded to the plaintiff and not the fees incurred pursuing the two other claims.