Second Circuit Affirms That Attorney Fees Be Awarded As Damages in Gortat V Capala Bros.

An early July ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the case of Gortat v. Capala Bros offered mostly good news for the plaintiffs, as the Second Circuit affirmed that they were entitled to substantial attorney’s fees thanks to overly aggressive litigation tactics used by the defendants.

The plaintiffs won a trial in 2013 that concerned the fate of seven construction workers who had alleged that Capala Bros Inc., their employer, failed to pay them time and a half overtime, per Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requirements.

The workers said the company only paid them $15 to $25 an hour, even when they worked more than 40 hours in a week. The plaintiff’s attorney argued that the case was a “garden variety” FLSA matter, but the defendants “turned it into a nuclear war.” The court agreed, sanctioning the defense to the tune of $8,000 for making “ad hominem attacks on Steven Gold, a Magistrate Judge.” The summary order also noted that “delays in the case were due to defendants’ combative and extraordinary conduct that raised many unnecessary disputes regarding case management and discovery as revealed by even a cursory review of the docket sheet.”

As a result of all this finagling behind the scenes, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $293,000 and an additional $583,000 (!) in attorneys fees on top. The Second Circuit trimmed down the attorney award but noted that the excess damages were “amply supported” by the defense’s conduct.

This case highlights the fact that employment litigation in New York can be more akin to street fighting than to gentlemanly cerebral dispute. If you or someone you love needs aggressive, dependable and ethical council, please call or email the New York employment lawyers at Joseph & Kirschenbaum at (212) 688-5640, or email us at

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