A federal judge awarded nearly $1.6 million in fees yesterday to three Washington lawyers who won a multimillion-dollar sex discrimination lawsuit against the Government Printing Office.

The protracted lawsuit, filed by women employed as bindery workers, set "major precedents" in civil rights, Judge Charles R. Richey said in a U.S. District Court ruling. It also resulted in "a major breakthrough for women in the government printing field and in the general area of equal pay for equal work."

Richey awarded the fees to Norah A. Bailey and David M. Dorsen, both members of District law firms, and to Roderic V.O. Boggs of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. They could not be reached for comment last night.

Royce C. Lamberth, chief of the civil division in the U.S. attorney's office, said the government is likely to appeal the fee awards to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Government lawyers previously described the proposed fees as excessive.

In 1980, Richey ordered the government to provide back pay to women employed by the Government Printing Office after finding that the federal agency had engaged in sex bias. He also ordered the agency to grant hiring preferences to women.

The 1980 order has already resulted in $11.4 million in financial benefits to 382 women, Richey said yesterday. The women are expected to receive at least $10 million more in the next seven years.

Richey awarded the fees for more than 7,600 hours of legal work over nearly 12 years. He said the lawyers were entitled to 50 percent more than their usual fees because of "exceptional risk" in the lawsuit, and he granted them an additional 25 percent because of their "exceptional success."

The "impact of this suit has affected the entire printing industry. Sex-segregated unions have merged together. The shock waves of this case have spurred inquiries and investigations into the work environment of all public and private printers," Richey said.

He praised the lawyers for displaying "tenacious advocacy" and making "new law" in the "face of extreme odds." The dispute included two trials and an appeal.

Under Richey's order, Bailey is to be paid $566,076 for more than 4,600 hours at fees ranging from $40 an hour in 1973 to $195 now. Dorsen is to receive $203,906 for over 1,800 hours at fees from $90 an hour in 1978 to $160 now. Boggs is entitled to $99,113 for more than 600 hours at the "prevailing" rate of $150 an hour.

All three would receive additional payments amounting to 75 percent of their fees because of the risk and results of the lawsuit. Several associates, paralegal workers and law clerks would also be entitled to fees.