U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson on Monday ordered the government of Norway to pay legal fees and costs of $2.1 million in the pay-discrimination lawsuit that it lost last December.
The blockbuster payout follows a trial last year in which Nelson ruled that Norway violated the state's Human Rights Act by paying Ellen Ewald $30,000 less than a man doing a comparable job in the country's consulate in Minneapolis.
At that time, Nelson ordered Norway to pay Ewald $170,000, which is double her lost wages, and an additional $100,000 for emotional distress.
The $2.1 million Norway must now pay to reimburse her lawyers may be unprecedented in Minnesota.
"It certainly ranks among the largest, if not the largest, court-ordered attorney fees in an individual discrimination case," said employment attorney Marshall Tanick, who has handled hundreds of cases.
In her 55-page ruling, Nelson described the case as "time-intensive," producing more than 90,000 pages of documents, some of which had to be translated into English, plus numerous motions in addition to an 11-day trial.
"Ewald and the [Norwegian] Embassy litigated this case tooth and nail, which explains why Ewald's attorney's fees and costs are relatively high," Nelson wrote.
The $2.1 million is a substantial victory for Ewald's lawyers, who had asked Nelson for $2.3 million in fees and costs.
Sheila Engelmeier, Ewald's lead attorney, said in a legal brief that her firm of eight lawyers spent 6,521 hours on the case.
"I feel like justice was served," she said in a phone interview on Monday night. "The journey for justice was worth the fight."
She said that Norway had offered to settle the case for $25,000, but by then she and Ewald already had racked up $160,000 in bills. Engelmeier had a counteroffer of $400,000, but would have come down, she said. Norway rejected that number.
Norway has an option to appeal the case, but if it loses at the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, it will cost Norway another 10 percent interest on the $2.1 million.
Since appeals normally take about a year to litigate, that could raise Norway's costs by another $200,000 if it loses.
Tanick said he had no idea whether Norway would file an appeal, but added, "That high interest rate is a disincentive for them to appeal and drag the case on."
Daniel Wilczek, the Minneapolis attorney representing Norway, could not be reached for comment Monday night.