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Former Union-Tribune Newscarriers Awarded $6.1M In Attorney Fees

A judge awarded more than $6 million in attorneys' fees in a class-action lawsuit against the San Diego Union-Tribune, after previously finding that a group of newspaper carriers were employees of the U-T and not independent contractors as the company had asserted, a lawyer said Wednesday.

Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer ruled Tuesday that the reasonable amount of attorneys' fees to be awarded to the class counsel was $6.1 million, of which $1.25 million will be paid to the class, with the balance paid by the U-T, said plaintiffs' attorney Daniel J. Callahan.

The attorneys' fees, coupled with $4.9 million the court awarded to the class last month as compensation for unreimbursed expenses, brings the total judgment to $10 million, he said.

Steven M. Strauss, who represented the U-T at trial, said there are some fundamental issues with the judge's decision that he hopes will be addressed on appeal.

"This case concerns activity between early 2005 and mid-2007 and a distribution model that existed under prior ownership," Strauss said in a statement. "It appears, however, that we are still some years away from ultimate resolution of the matter."

A group of newspaper carriers filed the class-action suit against the Union-Tribune — now called U-T San Diego — in January 2009, arguing they were misclassified as independent contractors when actually they should be deemed employees and entitled to reimbursement of their mileage and other expenses.

The judge granted certification of the class in September 2011, and trial commenced last May.

In a Dec. 20 decision, Meyer found that the 1,235 class members that delivered newspapers between Jan. 29, 2005, and July 1, 2007, were in fact employees of the U-T and not independent contractors.

According to the plaintiffs' attorney, the key issue at trial was whether the U-T had the right to control the manner and means in which carriers performed their service.

In making the ultimate finding that the carriers were employees, the judge noted that the contract that the carriers entered into, although purporting to refer to them as independent contractors, actually gave the U-T extensive control over the manner and means in which they performed their service.

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