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Job Bias Lawyer Who Sought $1 Million More in Fees Loses Appeal

July 7, 2021, 3:04 PM

An Illinois lawyer who recovered $1.3 million for a Muslim state transportation worker subjected to job bias failed to convince the Seventh Circuit the trial judge wrongly cut his attorneys’ fees request by nearly $1 million.

Joseph Longo’s contention that the judge used the wrong legal framework in awarding him $774,585 in fees instead of the $1.7 million he sought was “plainly frivolous,” the appeals court said.

It declined to impose sanctions but warned that “we are unlikely to countenance such behavior in the future.”

Longo submitted the fees request after prevailing in a lawsuit by Demarco Nichols, who was awarded $1.5 million by a jury for religious discrimination. That award was reduced to $300,000 under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s damages cap, and Nichols was also awarded $952,156 in equitable relief by the trial judge.

The trial court acted within its discretion in finding Longo’s fees petition “inflated his hourly rate and grossly overstated the hours that an attorney reasonably could have expended litigating” Nichols’ case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit said Tuesday.

Longo’s requested rate of $550 per hour was properly reduced to $360, Judge Kenneth F. Ripple said.

That’s the same hourly rate he was awarded in another case that overlapped with Nichols’ suit, the judge said. The six affidavits Longo submitted from other lawyers in the Chicago area didn’t support a higher rate, and Longo’s own affidavit was “entirely conclusory,” Ripple said.

Longo also properly was denied fees for time he spent traveling to court to attend proceedings in Nichols’ case, Ripple said.

He billed 2.8 hours roundtrip each time and made 39 trips, the judge said. But Longo could have participated by phone rather than traveling into Chicago, so the time was unnecessary, Ripple said.

Longo failed to show he was entitled to an upward adjustment of the lodestar amount, the Seventh Circuit said.

He argued that it’s rare to win a verdict for a Muslim worker, but workers in minority classes often sue and prevail under Title VII, the court said.

Longo’s improper billing justified denying him fees for preparing his fees petition, the court said.

His challenges to the reduction of his hours were incoherent, Ripple said.

Judge Michael S. Kanne and Michael Y. Scudder joined the opinion.

Longo of Mt. Prospect, Ill., represented himself. The state attorney general’s office represented the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The case is Nichols v. Ill. Dep’t of Transp., 2021 BL 251889, 7th Cir., No. 19-1456, 7/7/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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