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.”