WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether attorneys' fees are available after a discrimination case ended with 153 of 154 claims tossed and a paltry settlement.
When it brought the underlying complaint in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission claimed that CRST Van Expedited allowed severe and pervasive sexual harassment in its new-driver training program.
Though it claimed that CRST had subjected Monika Starke and 270 similarly situated female drivers to a hostile work environment, the EEOC proved unable for the first two years of litigation to identify the members of its class.
With the Northern District of Iowa cracking down, the EEOC listed 155 allegedly aggrieved individuals for whom it sought relief. It claimed that 99 other women had also been sexually harassed but that the EEOC was not pursuing relief for them.
The court still dismissed the case and ordered the EEOC to pay CRST's costs and attorneys' fees, totaling about $4.5 million, but the Eighth Circuit gave the commission another chance to fight one individual claim out of the 154 it had identified.
While the EEOC subsequently reached a $50,000 settlement on this claim, the trial court found that CRST had still prevailed and was entitled to more than $4.6 million in attorneys' fees, expenses and costs.
Supreme Court precedent in the 2011 decision Fox v. Vice warns against "a second major litigation" over the attorneys' fees award, but the three-judge appellate panel in St. Louis, Mo., still reversed last year.
"In summary, we conclude that CRST is not entitled to an award of attorneys' fees for (1) claims that the district court dismissed based on the EEOC's failure to satisfy its presuit obligations and (2) the purported pattern-or-practice claim," the Eighth Circuit ruled on Dec. 22, 2014.
"On remand, the district court must individually assess each of the claims for which it granted summary judgment to CRST on the merits and explain why it deems a particular claim to be frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless," the judges added. "Because CRST did not prevail on Starke's non-frivolous claim, on remand, if the court concludes that a frivolous claim or claims exists, then it must necessarily apply the Fox standard to determine what fees, if any, CRST 'expended solely because of the frivolous allegations.' Thereafter, the district court must consider anew whether CRST is entitled to an award of appellate fees and explain why 'no reasonable person would have thought he could succeed on appeal' or why 'the appeal had no foundation in law.'"
Per its custom, the U.S. Supreme Court did not issue any comment in granting the CRST a writ of certiorari late Friday.