Ryan L. Young
On August 1, 2013, a Northern District of Iowa district court judge awarded CRST Van Expedited with possibly the largest attorneys' fees and costs award ever levied against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The award, totaling $4,189,296.10 in attorneys' fees and $505,146.04 in costs, came at the end of a grueling six-year battle with the EEOC over the agency's sexual harassment claims.
The EEOC brought the claim in 2007 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that CRST intentionally accepted a pattern and practice of sexual harassment against its female drivers. The EEOC sought compensatory and punitive damages for 270 of CRST's female drivers.
At the district court level, CRST won summary judgment on the EEOC's pattern and practice claim and dismissal on summary judgment or other grounds for all but 67 of the 270 claims. The district court dismissed the remaining 67 claims on the grounds that the EEOC failed to meet Title VII's requirements before bringing the claims. These pre-lawsuit requirements included investigating each claim, determining whether each claim was supported by reasonable cause, and offering to conciliate each claim in good faith.
The EEOC appealed most of the district court's ruling, but the 8 th Circuit affirmed the district court's decision for all but two of the individual claims. On remand, the EEOC dismissed one claim and settled the remaining claim for significantly less than it would have cost CRST to defend that claim, paving the way for the district court judge to award CRST over $4.6 million in attorneys' fees and costs as the prevailing party.
The largest fee award ever levied against the EEOC will almost certainly cause the agency to reflect on its investigatory process before bringing claims in the future. The lesson for employers is that no government agency (Federal or State) is infallible. Government agencies, like employers, are required to follow the laws of the land. Failure to do so can result in significant legal (and financial) consequences.