Court Orders Higher Prevailing-Plaintiff Attorneys’ Fees In Disability Discrimination Case
Augustine Caldera is a correctional officer at a state prison who stutters when he speaks. Caldera alleged that the prison’s employees, including a supervisor, “mocked and mimicked” his stutter at least a dozen times over a period of two years. Caldera sued the CDCR for disability harassment, failure to prevent harassment and related claims, and a jury awarded Caldera $500,000 in emotional distress damages. The trial court found the damage award to be excessive and granted the employer’s motion for a new trial solely as to that issue. Both parties appealed, and the Court of Appeal in a previous opinion reversed the trial court’s new trial order but otherwise affirmed the $500,000 judgment in Caldera’s favor on the ground that the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to support the judgment. In this proceeding, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court should have allowed Caldera to recover prevailing-party attorneys’ fees based upon the fees charged by his San Francisco-based attorneys (who charge $750 per hour) rather than the $550 rate that is standard for San Bernardino-based attorneys because Caldera had been unable to find a local attorney to prosecute his case.