Decision: In Muniz v. UPS, the plaintiff sued for age discrimination, gender discrimination, retaliation and negligent supervision. Before trial, all claims but plaintiff’s gender discrimination claim had been dismissed, and the jury awarded the plaintiff only $27,280 in damages, which was a fraction of the $700,000 award requested at trial. On appeal, UPS argued, among other things, that the attorneys’ fees award should have been reduced to a greater extent because of the plaintiff’s limited success, but the Ninth Circuit rejected that argument because California law does not require the district court to reduce the attorneys’ fees award even when there is a large disparity between the two awards.
Impact: As highlighted by this case, California employers face significant risks when terminating employees or making other personnel decisions, even where the personnel decision causes little economic impact. As such, employers should consider consulting counsel before taking potentially risky personnel decisions. In assessing risk, employers will want to evaluate potential damages as well as potential attorneys’ fees awards at the outset, particularly now that California courts have approved attorneys’ fees awards in excess of 25 times underlying damages