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Lessons for Employers from Extended Litigation - January 15, 2020

Lawyers love to follow the intricacies of litigation - we read the court decisions and follow matters through trials like some follow the latest happenings in their favorite TV drama.

 

CRST Van Expedited v. EEOC

From the start, the case has been interesting to follow. The EEOC filed a lawsuit on behalf of 250 women alleging sexual harassment against CRST. The district court decided that the EEOC had missed some steps before filing a number of the claims-deeming 67 to be “frivolous,” and ordered the EEOC to pay over $4.6 million in attorney’s fees to CRST. This is not a common practice and reflected substantial concerns later expressed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

Following numerous appeals that went all the way to the Supreme Court and followed a path back down to the district court, the final decision is that the EEOC must pay $3,3317,289.67.

 

The appeals all centered on the amount of legal fees EEOC owed CRST, and specifically how that would be calculated. The Supreme Court stated that only “rough justice” is required and the district court need not become a “green-eyeshade accountant” in determining the number. The 8th Circuit found the district court achieved rough justice by creating an equation to determine the fee awards, including a deduction of the cost for the claims that were not found to be frivolous. The result was a fee award of $3.3 million, over a million dollars less than the previous award.

 

Other than an interesting drama for attorneys and court watchers, what is the lesson from this saga?

 

The Big Picture for Employers

Over the past decade, employers have seen the EEOC try to more frequently enforce unwritten rules and become more zealous in their advocacy. This case, and others like it, should give employers a sense of some relief as the courts pull back on the reins of the EEOC.       

 

However, no employer wants to be in the position of litigating a case, several times, in order to get “rough justice.”  Employers should document costs associated with defending frivolous claims if they do not want to rely on the court’s “rough justice” in calculating these costs. While rough justice may get the prevailing party close to their original economic position it may not account for all costs expended. As many HR managers know, not only will extensive documentation keep you out of court in the first place, if things go south in a claim, it may also help with controlling some aspects of the case. 



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