Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

7th Circuit: Reasonable Attorney Fees Not Properly Reduced Due to Existence of Contingent Fee Agreement

After successfully representing Danielle Pickett in a Title VII retaliation suit against her employer, Sheridan Health Care Center, Ernest T. Rossiello & Associates, P.C. sought to recover reasonable attorney fees, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e – 5(k), in an amount exceeding $131,000. The district court reduced the statutory fee award to $70,000. Concluding that the district court had relied on “impermissible considerations,” the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated the award of attorney fees and remanded the case for further proceedings.

After a 2-day trial, a federal jury returned a verdict for Pickett in the amount of $65,000, plus back pay. Pickett’s contract with her attorneys required her to pay them a contingency – 1/3 the amount awarded by the jury – and a flat fee of $7,500, in addition to the statutory award. When the parties could not agree on the amount of attorney’s fees, the issue was submitted to the court.

Rossiello submitted evidence in support of a claimed hourly rate of $592.50. Evidently convinced that Rosseillo would receive a windfall – a contingent fee and a flat fee, on top of the statutory fee – the district court decided that it would be more fair if Rossiello was compensated at the reduced rate of $400 per hour.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that the district court had erred in relying on the existence of the contingent fee agreement to reduce the statutory fee award. The contingent fee that an attorney earns from his client and the statutory fee that an attorney recovers from the losing party, it noted, represent “distinct entitlements.” Relying on Supreme Court precedent, it concluded that a district court reviewing fee petition could examine only whether the rate and hours requested were reasonable. So long as they were, the total amount recovered by the attorney was not a proper factor for the court to consider. See: Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Center, 664 F.3d 632 (7th Cir. 2011).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Center