Court Battles

High court skeptical of shielding EEOC from attorney’s fees

The Supreme Court did not appear convinced Monday that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) should escape having to pay $4.5 million in attorney’s fees for a lawsuit it brought against a trucking company that was later dismissed.

If the defendant wasted a huge amount of money fighting the litigation, Justice Samuel Alito said he doesn’t understand why there shouldn’t be a possibility of recouping attorney’s fees. 

{mosads}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 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a district court that the case should be dismissed, citing the EEOC’s failure both to identify each claimant during its investigation and not attempting to resolve each individual claim. The appeals court threw out the court’s award of attorney’s fees to CRST, however.

But since the lower court failed to weigh whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act authorizes an award of attorney’s fees when the EEOC fails to fulfill its pre-suit obligations, Justices Sonia Sotomayor suggested the case be remanded back to the lower court.

“Why don’t we remand it completely and let the 8th Circuit decide what it meant,” she said. 

Under Title VII, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. 

Justice Elena Kagan, a member of the court’s liberal wing, wanted to know if the EEOC could bring its claims back before the court if it satisfied the pre-suit requirements.

Paul Smith, who argued on behalf of CRST, said the lower court dismissed the EEOC’s lawsuit with prejudice, barring the plaintiff from filing another lawsuit on the same issue.

“That’s the end of it then,” Justice Stephen Breyer said. 

Breyer went on to question the EEOC’s attorney, Brian Fletcher, as to why CRST is not the prevailing party and therefore entitled to attorney’s fees.

Chief Justice John Roberts argued that if attorney’s fees are awarded under Title VII when the EEOC fails to fulfill it’s pre-suit obligations, it might give the agency some incentive to get its case right the first time.

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