Xerox Asked to Disclose What It Pays ERISA Lawyers

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By Jacklyn Wille

Oct. 19 — How much does Xerox Corp. pay the lawyers defending it from a 16-year-long lawsuit challenging the way it calculated workers’ pension benefits?

That’s what one federal judge wants to know.

After being ordered to recalculate workers’ benefits in January, Xerox objected to the workers’ request for attorneys’ fees based on hourly rates between $250 and $675, arguing that an hourly rate of more than $300 would be unreasonable. On Oct. 19, Judge David G. Larimer of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York ordered Xerox to disclose the billing rates charged by its own attorneys, which Larimer said would provide the “best evidence” for determining whether the workers’ requested fees were reasonable ( Frommert v. Conkright , 2016 BL 347641, W.D.N.Y., No. 6:00-cv-06311-DGL-JWF, 10/19/16 ).

In particular, Larimer said that the “unique” history of this case—which has lasted 16 years and made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court—made it difficult to find an “analogous case” that would help determine a reasonable level of attorneys’ fees. That’s why the fees charged to Xerox would be particularly relevant information, Larimer said, although he added that “dollar-for-dollar equivalence” wouldn’t be required.

In opposing the workers’ motion for attorneys’ fees, Xerox appeared to object to their decision to hire a national law firm with experience in Employee Retirement Income Security Act litigation, as opposed to a local law firm with lower fees. Larimer took issue with this line of attack, pointing out that Xerox did “precisely the same thing” when it hired the “prestigious” Washington law firm Covington & Burling.

Larimer gave Xerox a 15-day deadline for providing attorney billing information, which he said can be filed in a sealed document that won’t be publicly accessible.

The workers are represented by Stris & Maher LLP, Shaun P. Martin of the University of San Diego School of Law, Schell & Schell, Robert H. Jaffe & Associates PA, Law Offices of John A. Strain and Trevett Cristo Salzer & Andolina PC. Xerox is represented by Covington & Burling LLP and Littler Mendelson PC.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at jwille@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

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