In a breath of fresh air for employers, a California Court of Appeal has held that while a plaintiff employee was indeed entitled to $44.63 in underpaid wages, the attorneys in his resulting class-action lawsuit are entitled to recovery of no more than $500 in legal fees, rather than the $46,277 sought for over 120 hours of legal work at rates up to $525 per hour.  The Court of Appeal recognized that plaintiff was entitled to statutory attorney’s fees for the so-called “pay stub” violations, which have sometimes been used as an extortionate multiplier by plaintiffs’ counsel because even a small error in wage calculations can cascade into multiple statutory violations for inaccurate paycheck data and the like.  However, the Court of Appeal held that the attorney fee recovery is limited to a “reasonable fee”, and that plaintiff was underpaid “as the result of an honest mistake in reliance on a formula provided by his union”, and was not viable as a class action.  “At the risk of understatement, there is no way on Earth this case justified the hours purportedly billed” by plaintiff’s counsel.  Finally, rather than remand the case to the trial court for further wrangling and expenses over what is the amount of a “reasonable” fee for the $44.63 dispute, the Court of Appeal declared “we are satisfied that the trial court could not reasonably award an amount in excess of $500, and thus fix the fee at that amount” so as to end the case.  (Harrington v. Payroll Entertainment Services, Inc., 72 Cal. Rtr. 3d 922, February 28, 2008)

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