The Kaplan Law Firm recently prevailed in an unpaid overtime case brought under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. In addition to ordering payment of damages to the Firm’s client, the court also approved a significant award of attorneys’ fees.
The Defendant in the case, a corporation which operates a well-known Northern Virginia Korean BBQ restaurant, had failed to pay an employee—The Kaplan Law Firm’s client—at the overtime rate for overtime work. Generally, federal law requires employers to pay employees a 50% premium above their regular hourly rate of pay for each hour worked in excess of forty hours in any given workweek. The case is Gomez v. Seoul Gool Dae Gee Inc. and it was decided by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, Virginia.
As is often true in unpaid overtime cases, the total amount owed to the underpaid employee, while very significant to the employee, was relatively small compared to the cost of litigating in federal court, where legal bills of hundreds of thousands of dollars are common. Normally, under the “American Rule,” which applies to most civil litigation in the United States, even a successful plaintiff needs to pay his or her own attorneys’ fees. Consequently, in many cases individuals who have been harmed by companies with deep pockets are effectively out of luck—even if they win their case they might end up having to pay more in attorneys’ fees than they recover. Fortunately, the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets out federal overtime rules, contains a “fee shifting” provision which requires a court to order an employer found to have violated the Act to pay the successful plaintiff’s reasonable attorneys’ fees.
In this case, federal Judge Claude M. Hilton awarded The Kaplan Law Firm (and its principal attorney, Matthew B. Kaplan), all fees requested. In his written opinion, the judge firmly rejected opposing counsel’s argument that the Firm’s fees should be drastically reduced. The decision is important because failure to pay overtime is rampant, especially when, as in this case, the affected employee is a recent immigrant who speaks limited English. Employers often believe that such individuals are unlikely to go to court to defend their rights. As a matter of economic reality, the ability of plaintiffs’ attorneys to recover reasonable fees in unpaid overtime cases is critical to the enforcement of our overtime laws. The Kaplan Law Firm represented its client on a contingent fee basis, meaning that it would have received no fees if its client had not won his case.
In rejecting the argument that fees should be slashed, Judge Hilton commented favorably on Matt Kaplan’s qualifications and experience, noting that he has “extensive experience litigating in federal courts
and in employment matters” and that “Mr. Kaplan has worked as a litigation attorney for two major national law firms, focusing his practice
on complex plaintiff-side litigation in federal court, in
addition to years spent working as an analyst for the Central
Intelligence Agency and [as a Foreign Service Officer for] the Department of State.”
The Kaplan Law Firm regularly litigated unpaid overtime and wage payment cases.