Attorneys' Fees Slashed in Girl's Wrestling Case
(CN) - A federal judge awarded attorneys for a family that sued a Pennsylvania school district over their daughter's right to join the boys' wrestling team only half the fees requested, finding the lawyers' work duplicated that of a legal advocacy group.
The dispute stems from the Line Mountain School District's alleged refusal to let Brian and Angie Beattie's daughter, A.B., try out for the seventh grade wrestling team last fall.
Though A.B. wrestled against boys and girls for Line Mountain Elementary in Herndon, Pa., from 2012 to 2013, the district lacks either a middle or high school girls' wrestling team, and prohibits female students from joining the boys' team.
A.B.'s father told the school board that the policy violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the Equal Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution, as it relies on "the physiological differences between male and female athletes."
But after the district repeatedly denied the Beatties' requests, they filed suit in October.
The district later claimed that the policy also seeks to protect girls from unwanted sexual contact and harassment, though inappropriate touching could occur just as easily between boys.
It added that it is "concerned with the potential lowering of students' inhibitions, desensitizing them and possibly impacting moral standards" of sports players.
A.B. countered in her testimony that she "had been taught the difference between good touching and bad touching," and knew to "go get help" if someone touched her inappropriately.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann granted the Beatties a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction Jan. 13, tossing aside a board member's claim that coed wrestling has "a certain moral wrongness," since "it's inconsistent with what's being taught in homes."
The parties resolved the lawsuit and filed a consent decree on April 2.
The plaintiffs then moved for attorneys' fees and costs - over $86,000 for Flaster Greenberg PC, and more than $54,000 for the Women's Law Project - for working 314.7 hours.
But Judge Brann awarded them about half the requested amounts - just over $49,000 for Flaster Greenberg and just under $22,000 for Women's Law Project - July 10.
Finding that the work of Flaster Greenberg attorney Abbe Fletman often overlapped with that of Women's Law Project leader Terry Fromson, the court reduced their work to 80.6 hours.
"The court has identified 34.4 hours of attorney Fletman's time writing and reviewing the complaint, motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, and the briefs following the hearing, many of which overlap with attorney Fromson's work and are of dubious necessity," Brann wrote. "The court has identified 38.8 hours in which attorney Fromson claimed to work on these exact same briefs, either writing the drafts or spending excessive time reviewing Fletman's work. Because the court finds much of the revising and editing performed by one experienced co-counsel for the other to be unnecessary and redundant work, the court reduces each of these hourly amounts by one half the stated sum. Thus, Fletman's hour total is reduced by 17.2 hours, and Fromson's final hour total is reduced by 19.4 hours."
The judge further held that Fromson will not be compensated for the preliminary injunction hearing, where she neither questioned witnesses nor presented argument to the court.
"Fromson's attendance at the hearing was not vital to the prosecution of the case, as she merely took notes and handed exhibits to attorney Fletman who conducted the entire hearing," Brann wrote. "To the extent this aid was necessary, which it did not appear to be, it could have been competently performed by an associate with a lower billing rate."
Last year, Brann refused to let Pennsylvania Wrestling Club intervene on Nov. 20, brushing aside its "interest" to protect A.B.'s potential future Olympic career.