Singer Brandy Norwood has been ordered to pay more than $30,000 in attorney’s fees to her former housekeeper, the same plaintiff to whom Norwood previously agreed to pay more than $40,000 to settle the woman’s age discrimination suit.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Theresa Traber issued her ruling Monday after hearing arguments in the motion brought by lawyers for Maria Elizabeth Castaneda, who had asked for $87,445 in attorneys’ fees. The judge awarded a reduced amount of $31,820 in attorneys’ fees and another $805 in costs.
In their court papers, Castaneda’s attorneys from the Lipeles Law Group stated that they took the plaintiff’s case knowing that the legal battle ahead would match their boutique firm against a large firm that represents celebrities.
“To that end, through fiercely litigating the issue, Lipeles Law Group was able to secure a $40,000 settlement for our client within six months of filing the complaint,” they said.
Lipeles Law Group had to interview potential witnesses and obtain statements, take discovery, schedule and prepare for depositions and conduct an investigation into Norwood and her corporate affiliates, Castaneda’s lawyers state in their court papers.
“This does not include any of the time that our attorneys spent dealing with journalists who wanted a story,” the plaintiff’s attorneys further stated.
In the alternative, Castaneda’s attorneys sought either $48,580 or $38,390 in attorneys’ fees, plus $805 in costs, depending on two other rates the court can consider.
In her court papers, Norwood’s lawyer, Barbra Arnold, called the amount of attorneys’ fees requested by Castaneda’s lawyers “astonishing” for what she said was a “straightforward wage and hour” case.
In her ruling, the judge said the Castaneda case was not a difficult one.
“In this case … plaintiff has not proven any substantial risks undertaken,” the judge wrote. “Settling within five or six months of filing does not demonstrate risk.”
Castaneda, also known as Elizabeth Juarez, was hired by Norwood in September 2002 and her responsibilities included cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry at a daily rate of $125, according to the plaintiff’s suit filed March 25. She was wrongfully fired on Feb. 25 because she was older than 60 and the singer did not want an older employee, according to the suit, which further alleged Castaneda was owed money for her last two days of work.
In their court papers, Norwood’s attorneys maintained Castaneda’s age discrimination and failure to prevent discrimination claims were not viable under the state Fair Employment and Housing Act because the singer did not regularly employ five or more employees during the time the plaintiff worked for her. They said the plaintiff voluntarily resigned and was an independent contractor.
Norwood’s lawyers also maintained Castaneda’s claim for wrongful termination should have been dismissed because it was tied to the discrimination allegations.
Norwood, 43, served as a judge on the first season of “America’s Got Talent.” She had a brief relationship in 1996 with Kobe Bryant before he became a Laker.