French Embassy Insults Bring Six-Figure Fee

     (CN) — A federal judge awarded more than $270,000 in attorneys’ fees to a Muslim woman whose co-workers at the French Embassy gave her grief about terrorist attacks.
     Saima Ashraf-Hassan, a French citizen born in Pakistan, filed a federal complaint in Washington over her treatment working at France’s embassy there.
     “Your people are doing this,” a white, non-Muslim supervisor named Chantal Manes once told Ashraf-Hassan, with regard to terrorism, the court found.
     Another quipped: “Now we hire terrorists.”
     Ashraf-Hassan said she also got a lecture about contraception when she announced she was pregnant, and that someone once showed her an email in which a supervisor referred to her as “the Pashtun.”
     On the basis of this evidence, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg awarded Ashraf-Hassan $30,000 in damages back in February.
     After refusing earlier this month to hold a new trial, Boasberg scoffed on May 19 that the embassy had doubled down with a motion for sanctions.
     “Apparently subscribing to a Goldwaterite view that extremism in the defense of its position is no vice, the embassy has now filed a motion for sanctions,” Boasberg wrote. “Such a pleading is a vice, and the court would be entirely justified in sanctioning defendant for such a waste of time. It will, however, simply deny the motion.”
     Boasberg awarded Ashraf-Hassan $271,786 in fees Tuesday for her attorneys.
     Katherine Atkinson, of Gary M. Gilbert and Associates in Silver Spring, Md., said in an interview that the fee award is “important because we are unable to represent clients like Saima unless courts award attorneys’ fees when we prevail.”
     “This award will permit us to help the next person who walks in our door with a serious allegation of discrimination,” Atkinson said in an email.
     Ashraf-Hassan was also represented by Wilkenfeld Herendeen Law in Washington, D.C.
     Judge Boasberg said that the embassy’s objection grew from “its oft-repeated tactic of attacking the substance of the court’s judgment, arguing that plaintiff misled the court about certain dates, and that the court must necessarily disavow its initial factual findings, enter new findings comporting with the embassy’s version of events, and vacate the verdict.”
     The embassy even asserted that the progression would ultimately make it the prevailing party and thus eligible for fees.
     “Like Tantalus stooping to drink from an ever-receding pool, defendant remains perennially optimistic that this argument will eventually succeed, despite the court’s reiterated recognition of its futility,” Boasberg wrote. “The court has already addressed and rejected the assertion that Ashraf-Hassan misled it and has accordingly denied defendant’s post-trial motions, as well as its motion for sanctions. The court declines to wade back into those waters once more.”
     As for the embassy’s claim that it was justified in not settling with Ashraf-Hassan,
     Boasberg called the embassy’s logic “hard to follow.”
     Apparently the embassy said a settlement became impossible when Ashraf-Hassan had the audacity to publicize “grave … allegations” with her lawsuit.
     “The embassy seems to suggest that some of her allegations were tolerable, (noting that it ‘conceded from the start” that her supervisor’s calling her a ‘Pashtun’ ‘might have created the perception of discrimination’), but that others, such as the contraception lecture, or that she was referred to as a dog, were simply beyond the pale,” the opinion states. “As a result, ‘settlement became very remote’ because the Embassy had to make ‘clear to everyone that these grave allegations never occurred.’
     “Regardless of what motivated the Embassy to eschew settlement, it has no bearing here,” Boasberg added. “Ashraf-Hassan alleged violations of Title VII, and she succeeded on her hostile-work-environment claim. Indeed, this court found that some of the allegations the embassy views as ‘grave’ did, in fact, occur.”
     Even in Ashraf-Hassan exaggerated in her pleadings, that “does not undermine her ultimate success or her entitlement to fees,” Boasberg wrote.
     Plus, the fees are “consistent with the attorneys’ historical billing practices and take into consideration counsel’s varying skill, experience, and reputation,” the ruling states.

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