Legal Secretary Receives Fee Award in Overtime Case

A former secretary for Los Angeles area law firm J.J. Little and Associates was successful in her overtime lawsuit against her former employers, ultimately securing an award of $277,000 in attorney fees in addition to $91,000 in wage claims and $30,000 in interest previously won. As reported in the ABA Journal, the fee award did, however, represent a downward departure from the $830,000 she had originally sought.

Los Angeles Judge Barbara Scheper denied Bernal’s request for a fee multiplier, stating that the facts of the case did not warrant such a grant. Scheper further asserted that a portion of the legal work cited in support of the claim for fees needed to be attributed to categories of claims for which attorney fees are unrecoverable.

The ruling on Bernal’s attorney fee request follows a May jury verdict in which it was found that the defendant law firm did not pay proper amounts of earned overtime, did not accurately account for hours worked and did not maintain detailed wage statements as required by law.

In her original complaint, Bernal alleged that at the time of her 2010 hiring, she was led to believe that she would receive weekly wages of $1,000 and would not be required to working during evening hours. The reality of her employment situation was vastly different, according to her complaint, in that during trials she was often compelled to work upwards of 20 hours per day. Bernal also asserted that her employers expected her to be responsive to telephone calls and text messages on weekends as well as after hours during the workweek. Throughout the duration of her employment, however, she did not receive overtime compensation.

Judge Scheper’s ruling included findings that J.J. Little & Associates, its managing partner James Little and a related entity called Law Office Administrators were jointly liable for the damage award and attorney fees owed to Ms. Bernal.

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