New Orleans construction company ordered to pay portion of employees' fees, costs

By Karen Kidd | May 6, 2019

NEW ORLEANS — Construction workers who successfully sued their New Orleans employer over unpaid overtime also will have part of their attorney fees and costs paid, a federal judge said in a recent ruling.

Jose Castellanos and 16 other plaintiffs in the class action first filed in 2016 will receive a little more than $34,509 in attorney fees and costs, U.S. District Court Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle of Louisiana's Eastern District said in his 16-page order and reasons issued March 25.

Castellanos was the lead defendant in a class action lawsuit filed in March 2016 against Saints & Santos Construction, alleging his former employer did not pay its employees overtime wages.

Class was certified in the case in May 2017 and in January 2018 the parties reached an agreement about the amount of unpaid overtime wages due by the then 17 plaintiffs, according to the background portion of Lemelle's order. Ultimately, an opinion was issued that granted a little more than $14,878 in unpaid overtime and almost $7,440 in liquidated damages, leaving fees and costs to be determined.

U.S. District Court Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle

Plaintiffs filed a motion for attorney's fees, which was opposed by Saints & Santos, who also sough fees on their "prevailing defenses."

"The plaintiffs contend that, pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, they are entitled to attorney's fees in the amount of $59,010 for 201.2 hours of attorney time," the order said. "Plaintiffs argue they are the prevailing parties in this case because the court issued a judgment in their favor, entitling them to unpaid overtime wages and liquidates damages."

The plaintiffs also argue the "reasonableness" of the claimed hourly rates and hours, claiming any further adjustment of the fees  is unwarranted because "counsel exercised billing judgment throughout the litigation," the order said.

The defense argued "an across-the-board reduction" in attorney's fees was warranted as some of the fees sought by plaintiffs involved eventually-dismissed defendants and putative class members.

Lemelle found the defendants offered "no authority under FLSA for recovery of defense fees" and ordered them to pay plaintiffs $32,512.50 in reasonable fees and $1,996.69 in recoverable costs.

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