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Victory will encourage private attorneys to take wage theft cases

May 3, 2016: When low-wage workers don’t get paid, private attorneys often won’t take their cases if they think courts won’t award adequate attorney's fees for enforcing wage laws when small amounts of unpaid wages are involved. The Public Justice Center has long fought to ensure that courts grant appropriate attorney's fees in these cases. Last December, we joined several advocacy groups in signing onto an amicus brief in Radtke et al v. Lifecare Management Partners et al, arguing for the courts to award reasonable attorney's fees in wage-theft cases, in order to encourage private attorneys to defend the rights of workers and others entitled to relatively small damages.

In the case, medical records coders Kathy Radtke and Carmen Cunningham had sued their employer for failing to pay overtime and won. But the court reduced their requested attorney’s fee award by 75%, even though it found that their counsel’s hourly rates and time spent in litigation were appropriate and reasonable. The court reduced the fee award because Radtke and Cunningham’s recovery of wages was modest compared to their requested damages and fee award, and speculated that they could have settled their case earlier had they provided their damages calculations earlier. On May 3, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with workers and the advocates’ amicus brief, reversing the drastic reduction of the fee award and sending the case back to the trial court to determine an appropriate fee award. This win helps ensure that private lawyers can represent low-wage workers in low-damages cases without worrying that they will not be adequately and appropriately compensated for their efforts.

The amicus brief in Radtke et al v. Lifecare Management Partners et al. was principally authored by Richard T. Seymour of Law Office of Richard T. Seymour, P.L.L.C. Along with the Public Justice Center, the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association, Maryland Employment Lawyers Association, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the D.C. Employment Justice Center signed onto the brief.

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