EEOC Ordered to Pay Attorneys’ Fees to Prevailing Defendant

Since this case comes out of the Northern District of Iowa, I figured my post needed a picture of a corn field to make it complete. The other option was a picture of me in high school during the one year I lived in Cedar Rapids. I decided a picture of me with bangs, in a prom dress, and with a 5 lb. cell phone wasn't a good idea.

Since this case comes out of the Northern District of Iowa, I figured my post needed a picture of a corn field to make it complete. The other option was a picture of me in high school during the one year I lived in Cedar Rapids. However, I made the executive decision that a picture of me with bangs, in a prom dress, and with a 5 pound cell phone wasn’t a good idea.

The past few weeks have been notable for EEOC litigation.  In one recent case, EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited Inc., the Northern District of Iowa ordered the EEOC to pay almost $4.7 million in attorneys’ fees and costs to defendant CRST. This case received a lot of press because of the large attorneys’ fees award, but there are so many other aspects of the case that are interesting.

Quick background – the case is a hostile work environment/sexual harassment case. The EEOC alleged the lead plaintiff and other similarly situated females were harassed and that CRST allegedly failed to take prompt and appropriate action to prevent, correct and protect the women from the purported harassment.

First, before we get to discussing the case, I have to say that any time the court includes a Table of Contents at the outset in their Order, I am impressed.  How wonderfully convenient and unexpected.  And in reading the Order, I equally enjoyed the detailed litigation strategy woven throughout the Order. The Court went through the various motions for summary judgment filed in this case and they clearly spell out how the company chipped away at the flaws in the case – identifying the large number of individuals who were not aggrieved (thus, resulting in the company being identified as the prevailing party). The company filed:

  • Motion for Summary Judgment on the EEOC’s Pattern and Practice Claim;
  • Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Statute of Limitations and Other Grounds;
  • Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Judicial Estoppel;
  • Motion for Summary Judgment Against the Claims of Certain of the Interveners;
  • Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Class Members’ Failure to Report the Alleged Harassment and/or CRST’s Prompt and Effective Response to Reported Harassment;
  • Motion for Summary Judgment Against Class Members Who Did Not Experience Severe or Pervasive Sexual Harassment; and
  • Motion for Summary Judgment Against Class Members Whose Claims Fail on Two or More Grounds.

Attorneys’ fees were available to defendants in this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C.  2000e-5(k) and Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC – where the Supreme Court identified the requirement that a prevailing defendant must prove the plaintiff’s actions were “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though not brought in subjective bad faith” before attorneys’ fees and costs can be recovered.  434 U.S. 412 (1978). The court in CRST awarded fees and rejected the EEOC’s argument that “as long as it names an individual in a complaint and succeeds as to that individual, it can include as many frivolous allegations as it wishes in a complaint using the vague language ‘and a class of similarly situated individuals’ without ever being liable for a defendant’s attorneys’ fees.”

About Ashley Kasarjian

Attorney at Snell & Wilmer L.L.P., and publisher of the independent blog, Employment and the Law.
This entry was posted in EEOC, Title VII and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to EEOC Ordered to Pay Attorneys’ Fees to Prevailing Defendant

  1. Great take on an interesting story! Do you think this will change the way that the EEOC operates in terms of how it goes after businesses?

    Also, it would be interesting to hear your take on the Danny’s Family Car Wash raid and maybe what Danny’s did wrong from a operational and compliance standpoint, and how employers can protect themselves from liability in situations like this.

    • Thanks – I appreciate the feedback! I can imagine that end result would make anyone step back and evaluate what was done right and what could be improved on. It’s definitely an interesting case.

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