Attorneys representing a female middle school student in Williamsport, Pennsylvania against her public school for its gender-based athletic program, were awarded approximately half of the fees they requested by a federal court. U.S. Middle District Judge Mathew W. Brann ordered that Line Mountain School District pay $70,948 out of the $140,681 requested due to some objectionable billing entries that appeared in the invoices. “He found some of the billed hours were duplicative and the hourly billing fees were unreasonable compared with the rate to practice in federal court in Williamsport.”
The suit was brought on behalf of the student when she was prohibited from trying out for her middle school wrestling team because of her gender. Judge Brann issued a preliminary injunction allowing her to participate and the issue was ultimately resolved through a consent decree. The school board later unanimously voted to repeal the gender-based athletic policy.
The student was represented by three attorneys from the law firm of Flaster Greenburg and two attorneys from the Women’s Law Project, both located in Philadelphia. As the winning party in the civil rights suit, the student’s parents were permitted to request that the school district pay their legal expenses. The school district challenged both the attorneys’ rates and hours as “unreasonable and excessive.”
Judge Brann agreed with the school district’s challenge, pointing to many objectionable entries appearing in the invoices when reducing the fee request by almost 50%. He stated that not only were some hours duplicative but the attorneys wrongfully sought compensation at full rate for travel time, unnecessarily attending a conference, and reviewing each other’s work. He also adjusted two of the attorneys’ hourly rates from $325 to $250 and $525 to $450, respectively, in accordance with Williamsport market rates, explaining that the student’s parents failed to provide sufficient evidence that they could not find adequate local representation which necessitated the higher rates of Philadelphia lawyers.