Supreme Court backs trucking company seeking attorney's fees from EEOC

Supreme Court backs trucking company seeking attorney's fees from EEOC
© Greg Nash

An Iowa trucking company will have another chance to win $4.5 in attorney’s fees from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously vacated a lower court’s decision to throw out the attorney’s fees EEOC had been ordered to pay CRST Van Expedited Inc. and remanded the case back to the lower court.

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The case stems from the class-action lawsuit the EEOC brought against CRST Van Expedited Inc. on behalf of female employees, who claimed to have been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted while on the job.

The district court dismissed the case on the grounds that EEOC had not adequately investigated or attempted to reconcile its claims and later awarded it $4.5 million in attorney’s fees as the “prevailing party.”

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, threw out the award. The court said defendants with discrimination claims can only be a “prevailing party” if they win a case on the merits. Since the district court dismissed the case, there had been no such ruling.

But the Supreme Court held Thursday that a favorable ruling on the merits is not a necessary predicate to find that a defendant is a prevailing party entitled to attorney’s fees.

“In cases like these, significant attorney time and expenditure may have gone into contesting the claim,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in delivering the opinion of the court.

“Congress could not have intended to bar defendants from obtaining attorney’s fees in these cases on the basis that, although the litigation was resolved in their favor, they were nonetheless not prevailing parities.”

He said neither the fee-shifting statute nor the policy it's based on support the appellate court’s on-the-merits requirement.