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SCOTUS to Hear EEOC Fee Award Dispute

December 4, 2015 | Posted in : Fee Dispute, Fee Entitlement / Recoverability, Fee Issues on Appeal, Fee Jurisprudence, Fee Reduction, Fees as Sanctions, Prevailing Party Issues

A recent NLJ story, “Justices Will Resolve Feud Over Jenner & Block’s Fee Award” reports the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to referee a long-running dispute between Jenner & Block and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over a $4.6 million in attorney fees awarded to a client of the law firm.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit nixed the attorney fee award because the sex discrimination case brought by the EEOC against Jenner client CRST Van Expedited Inc. was dismissed rather than decided on the merits.  It also noted that one of the claims involved in the case was settled with the company.

In his petition before the high court, Paul Smith, chairman of Jenner’s Supreme Court practice, argued that the trucking company had in fact prevailed in the “massive” litigation brought on behalf of a class of female drivers who claimed sexual harassment on the job.

“The Eighth Circuit’s ruling makes no sense as a matter of statutory policy,” Smith wrote in the petition in CRST Van Expedited Inc. v. EEOC.  The case is likely to be argued next spring with a decision before the end of June 2016.

The EEOC first filed the suit against CRST in 2007, claiming persistent harassment of female long-haul drivers and trainees.  The number of women in the case grew to 270, but the company filed motions asserting the EEOC could not possibly have evidence to prove their claims were valid.

The district court agreed that the EEOC had “wholly abandoned its statutory duties,” dismissing most of the claims and awarding the $4.6 million in fees, one of the largest awards in EEOC history.  The Eighth Circuit reversed the ruling last year.

In the government’s opposing brief, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. asserted that under high court precedent legal fees can be awarded to a prevailing defendant if the litigation is shown to be “frivolous”—a determination that can only be made if the case is decided on the merits.