A federal judge has granted attorneys' fees totaling nearly $2 million to Minneapolis lawyers who won a federal class action sex-discrimination case against the University of Minnesota.
The fee package is the largest such award against an academic institution and may be a record for all such cases under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, according to lawyers for both sides.
The fees were assessed against the university Saturday by U.S. District Court Judge Miles Lord, who presided in the 1973 class action brought by Shyamala Rajender, who claimed the university discriminated against her on the basis of sex when the chemistry department refused to hire her permanently.
After years of delay and an 11-week trial, it was settled in February, 1980, with a consent decree that imposed an elaborate hiring program on the university. Rajender, now a San Francisco patent attorney, then was awarded $100,000.
Saturday, Lord ordered that one law firm, Sprenger, Olson & Shutes, be awarded $1,404,763, an amount calculated on a fee of $375 per hour, triple the firm's normal $125 per hour charge.
The second award, of $550,823, was for Johnson, Sands, Lizee, Fricker & McCloskey, based on a fee of $240 an hour, three times that firm's base rate of $80 per hour. The total comes to $1,955,586.
Lord said a key reason for the large fees was to discourage discrimination. He also said this was a difficult case to prove and the lawyers produced quality work. But Charles Mays, the lawyer who handled the case for the university, said the fees were "unreasonable."