Monday, December 7, 2015

SCOTUS to Hear Title VII Attorney's Fees Case

In America, each party in litigation is generally responsible for paying its own attorneys. However, under Title VII, a successful plaintiff is entitled to have his or her attorneys fees paid by the defendant - it happens all the time.  In limited circumstances, a successful defendant can likewise recover attorney's fees from the opposing party - but this is far more rare.

On Friday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in (agreed to hear) CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. EEOC (SCOTUSblog case page). Per the Petition for Certiorari, the question presented is:
Whether a dismissal of a Title VII case, based on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s total failure to satisfy its pre-suit investigation, reasonable cause, and conciliation obligations, can form the basis of a attorney’s fee award to the defendant under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k)?
The defendant-employer won on summary judgment in a "massive sexual harassment" case involving many of its female drivers. The trial court awarded the employer over $4 million in attorney's fees "in part because the EEOC had failed to engage in any form of pre-suit investigation, reasonable cause determination, or conciliation extending beyond the claims of just two alleged victims."

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment and agreed that the EEOC "wholly failed" to satisfy its pre-suit obligations. However, the appellate court reversed the decision to award the defendant attorney's fees because the case was not resolved "on the merits."

This case will presumably answer the question posed within the employer's petition:
The question presented here is whether such fee awards are available where a claim is dismissed based on the EEOC’s total failure to comply with its pre-suit obligations or whether, as the Eighth Circuit held, fees are precluded in that situation because the victory was not sufficiently “on the merits.”
This case has not yet been scheduled for argument.