Court of Appeal Upholds $1.2 million Fee Award

The First District Court of Appeal for the State of California has affirmed a decision of the Alameda County Superior Court to award attorney’s fees of approximately $1,162,000 to Strauss & Strauss, APC and co-counsel the Hathaway law firm of California.

The case, Britto v. Zep Inc., began as a putative class action brought by Plaintiffs Keith Britto and Justin Cowan on behalf of themselves and other salespersons of Zep Inc. in California.  Plaintiffs sought reimbursement for job-related business expenses (such as mileage) and deductions from their wages.  Plaintiffs also sought civil penalties under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”) for Zep’s violations of the California Labor Code.

After the trial court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, over fifty putative class members attempted to intervene in the Britto action.  Ultimately, the intervenors had to file their case separately, and Zep removed it to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.  Zep also compelled eight of the intervenors into arbitration.  (Each of those cases ultimately resolved, with the plaintiffs prevailing in each of the eight arbitrations.)

Back in state court, the Britto case resolved after Zep unsuccessfully brought a motion for summary judgment. Zep made an offer of compromise pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 998, which offered to pay (2) Plaintiffs Britto and Cowan a certain amount each for their individual claims, (2) the State of California (Labor and Workforce Development Agency) penalties under PAGA in the amount of $275,000, and (3) Plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees and costs.

On motion by Plaintiffs for their attorney’s fees and costs, the Alameda County Superior Court awarded fees of approximately $1.16 million, which included a fee multiplier of 1.25.

Zep appealed the award of attorney’s fees on the basis that the trial court awarded too much. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that the trial court has broad discretion to award fees and that the record supported the trial court’s decision to come up with an appropriate fee award.

The appellate decision is here.

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