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Court Addresses Attorney Gender Pay Gap in Attorneys’ Fee Award Decision

In a recent decision awarding attorneys’ fees, a U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania explicitly considered the historic attorney gender pay gap. In that case – Ray v. AT&T Mobility Services, LLC – the plaintiff, Alison Ray, sought a total of $847,945 in attorneys’ fees after prevailing on her age-discrimination claims.

When a party is entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees, courts typically use the “lodestar” method, which takes the number of hours reasonably expended by attorneys in a case, multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate for each attorney. The hourly rate is based on the prevailing market rate in the relevant community, taking into account the experience and skill of the attorneys.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice, applying the lodestar analysis, considered the hourly rates of Stephen Console – an attorney with 40 years of experience; Susan Saint-Antoine – an attorney with 27 years of experience; and Laura Mattiacci – an attorney with 20 years of experience. Plaintiff sought a rate of $900 per hour for Console, $730 per hour for Saint-Antoine, and $700 per hour for Mattiacci.

The Court found that although Saint-Antoine and Mattiacci had fewer years’ experience than Console, they were entitled to the same hourly rate. The Court took into account evidence of market rates in Philadelphia, including a fee schedule set forth by Community Legal Services (CLS), a schedule on which the Court noted it often relies, and determined that $700 was a reasonable hourly rate for Console. The Court then found that “a $700 hourly rate is reasonable and within the prevailing market rates for Saint-Antoine and Mattiacci, who both provided exceptional legal work in this case.” The Court found Saint-Antoine’s “years of experience and expertise and skill” warranted that rate. Likewise, with respect to Mattiacci, the Court found that although her CLS her years of experience would warrant a rate of $530 per hour, she was nevertheless entitled to the same $700 hourly rate as Console and Saint-Antoine “given her experience and skill as a trial lawyer” and her “exceptional advocacy skills.”

In doing so, the Court, referencing an article in the ABA Journal concerning the widening pay gap among male and female partners, noted that “[h]istorically, women in law earn less than their male counterparts, a discrepancy that may reflect hidden bias.” Magistrate Judge Rice found that “[a]ttorneys of comparable skill and ability merit equal compensation without regard to gender or age. As unremarkable as that statement sounds, the reality is that fee awards are often based on status and not performance.”

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