United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MARIA N. GRACIA, Plaintiff,
SIGMATRON INTERNATIONAL, INC., Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Honorable Edmond E. Chang United States District Judge.
Gracia filed this lawsuit against her former employer,
SigmaTron International, Inc., alleging workplace harassment
and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et
See R. 1, Compl.On December 18, 2014, after a three-day
trial, a jury returned a verdict for Gracia on her
retaliation claim. R. 184, 12/18/14 Minute Entry. Gracia now
moves under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d) for
reasonable attorneys' fees and costs as permitted by
Title VII and 28 U.S.C. § 1920. See R. 280,
Pl.'s Fee Mot.; see also 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-5(k). SigmaTron in turn seeks to keep specified
portions of Gracia's motion under seal. See R.
281, Def.'s Mot. to Seal. For the reasons stated below,
Gracia's motion for attorneys' fees and costs is
granted in part and denied in part, and SigmaTron's
motion to maintain the seal is denied.
Court has previously detailed the facts of this case in its
summary judgment opinion, R. 87, 10/25/13 Opinion, and its
post-trial opinions, R. 204, 4/21/15 Opinion; R. 222, 9/17/15
Opinion, so only the most pertinent facts are set forth here.
worked for SigmaTron from 1999 to 2008. In late 2008, Gracia
told SigmaTron and the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission that she was being harassed by her immediate
supervisor. Shortly after she complained, SigmaTron fired
Gracia, and in October 2011, Gracia filed this lawsuit,
alleging workplace discrimination and hostile work
environment on the basis of gender and national origin (Count
One) and retaliation (Count Two) in violation of Title VII.
three years of litigation and a three-day trial, a jury
returned a verdict for Gracia on her retaliation
12/18/14 Minute Entry. The jury awarded Gracia $57, 000 in
compensatory damages and $250, 000 in punitive damages.
Id. SigmaTron thereafter moved for a new trial,
judgment as a matter of law, and remittitur of the damages
award. See R. 196. The Court denied SigmaTron's
motions for judgment as a matter of law and a new trial, but
granted SigmaTron's motion for remittitur only to lower
the compensatory damages award to $50, 000 so that the
overall damages award would not exceed the statutory cap of
$300, 000, see 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D).
See 4/21/15 Opinion. The Court later determined that
Gracia was also entitled to $74, 478.14 in equitable damages.
See 9/17/15 Opinion. Final judgment-in the amount of
$374, 478.14-was entered on September 17, 2015, see
R. 223, and SigmaTron timely appealed to the Seventh Circuit,
 R. 228.
has since filed a bill of costs and a motion for
attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 54(d), 28 U.S.C. § 1920, and 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-5(k). See Pl.'s Fee Mot.; R. 233,
Bill of Costs; R. 286-2, Am. Bill of Costs. Gracia seeks
$262, 500.00 in attorneys' fees, $5, 574.97 in
non-taxable expenses, and $7, 216.24 in taxable costs. See
Pl.'s Fee Mot. at 1; Am. Bill of Costs. SigmaTron in turn
has objected to the bulk of the costs that Gracia seeks, as
well as to the hourly rate requested for Gracia's
attorneys, see R. 266, Def.'s Obj. to Bill of
Costs; R. 285, Def.'s Fee Mot. Resp., and has filed a
motion to keep certain information in Gracia's fee motion
under seal, Def.'s Mot. to Seal.
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k), “the court, in its
discretion, may allow the prevailing party [in a Title VII
action] . . . a reasonable attorney's fee (including
expert fees) as part of the costs.” Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) allows a prevailing party to recover
costs other than attorneys' fees unless a federal
statute, federal rule, or court order states otherwise.
seeks to recover $262, 500.00 in attorneys' fees, $5,
574.97 in non-taxable costs, and $7, 216.24 in taxable costs
from SigmaTron. See Pl.'s Fee Mot. at 1; Am.
Bill of Costs. With regard to attorneys' fees, SigmaTron
agrees that the hours billed by Gracia's
attorneys, Kathryn Korn and Hall Adams, were reasonable.
See R.280-1, 12/4/15 Letter from SigmaTron at 1
(“In the spirit of Local Rule 54.3, SigmaTron will not
object to the number of hours Plaintiff is seeking for Hall
Adams's time . . . or to the number of hours Plaintiff is
seeking for Kathryn Korn's time . . . .”).
SigmaTron objects, however, to the hourly rate that
Gracia seeks for both Korn and Adams. See Def.'s
Fee Mot. Resp. With regard to costs, SigmaTron claims that
(1) the taxable expenses sought via the bill of costs cannot
be recovered because the bill of costs was not accompanied by
an affidavit or any substantiating documentation,
see Def.'s Obj. to Bill of Costs; Def.'s Fee
Mot. Resp. at 14-15, and (2) the majority of the non-taxable
expenses sought cannot be recovered because they should have
been included in the bill of costs or were not reasonable or
necessary, see Def.'s Fee Mot. Resp. at 12-14.
SigmaTron also seeks to keep portions of Gracia's fee
motion sealed-in particular, all references to the number of
Howard & Howard attorneys that represented SigmaTron, the
Howard & Howard attorneys' hourly rates, and the
total amount of attorneys' fees SigmaTron paid Howard
& Howard for its defense. See Def.'s Mot. to
Seal at 2-3. The Court addresses each of SigmaTron's
objections, as well as SigmaTron's motion to maintain the
seal, in turn.
determine a reasonable attorney's fee, district courts
use the lodestar method, “multiplying the ‘number
of hours reasonably expended on the litigation . . . by a
reasonable hourly rate.'” Pickett v. Sheridan
Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 639 (7th Cir. 2011)
(Pickett II) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart,
461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). Here, SigmaTron does not object to
the time billed by Gracia's attorneys, see
12/4/15 Letter from SigmaTron at 1, so the Court need only
determine what constitutes a reasonable hourly rate for both
Korn and Adams. “A reasonable hourly rate is based on
the local market rate for the attorney's services.”
Montanez v. Simon, 755 F.3d 547, 553 (7th Cir.
2014). To figure out the market rate, there is ideal evidence
and (absent the ideal evidence) next-best evidence:
The best evidence of the market rate is the amount the
attorney actually bills for similar work, but if that rate
can't be determined, then the district court may rely on
evidence of rates charged by similarly experienced attorneys
in the community and evidence of rates set for the attorney
in similar cases.
Id. As between the two “next-best”
alternatives, the Seventh Circuit has “indicated a
preference for third party affidavits that attest to the
billing rates of comparable attorneys.” Pickett
II, 664 F.3d at 640. That said, “conclusory
affidavits from attorneys ‘merely opin[ing]' on the
reasonableness of another attorney's fee-unlike
affidavits describing what ‘comparable attorneys charge
for similar services'-have little probative value.”
Montanez, 755 F.3d at 554 (quoting Pickett
II, 664 F.3d at 647).
party seeking the fee award bears the burden of establishing
the market rate for their attorneys' services.
Montanez, 755 F.3d at 553. Should the party fail to
carry that burden, the Court can independently determine the
appropriate hourly rate. Id. Once the party seeking
the award has met their burden, however, the opposing party
has the burden of demonstrating why a lower rate should be
awarded. People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., Sch.
Dist. No. 205, 90 F.3d 1307, 1313 (7th Cir. 1996). That
said, if the Court “decides that [a] proffered rate
overstates the value of an attorney's services, it may
lower [the rate] accordingly.” Mathur v. Bd. of
Trs. of S. Ill. Univ., 317 F.3d 738, 743 (7th Cir.
2003); see Chrapliwy v. Uniroyal, Inc., 670 F.2d
760, 767 (7th Cir. 1982) (“A judge may well approach
high rates with skepticism, and he may exercise some
discretion in lowering such rates.”).
asks the Court to award Adams a billing rate of $500 per hour
in this matter. See Pl.'s Fee Mot. at 3. In
support of this request, Gracia has supplied billing records
from another case in which Adams billed a different client
$500 per hour. R. 280-5 at Exh. A, Hall Adams's Invoices.
Although it is true that the invoices do not explicitly say
what type of case these bills are for, see
Def.'s Fee Mot. Resp. at 10-11, the descriptions of the
services rendered prove that it is a civil litigation matter
and that Adams billed this client for his services as a
litigator. See R. 280-5 at Exh. A, Hall Adams's
Invoices at 6, 8, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 (referencing work
preparing a complaint and a motion for summary judgment,
responding to a motion for summary judgment, reviewing a
Seventh Circuit employment-law case, and attending status
hearings). What's more, some of the billing entries show
that the subject matter is employment related: Adams billed
time to the client to review a Seventh Circuit employment-law
case, Hess v. Bresney, 784 F.3d 1154 (7th Cir.
2015), and to hold a telephone conference and correspond
about resignation agreements. R. 280-5 at Exh. A, Hall