Here’s a bit of good news for employers fighting baseless lawsuits: The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has signaled its willingness to allow trial judges to order attorneys’ fees for employers forced to defend themselves from litigation that has no merit.
Recent case: Michael Mach was over age 40 and worked as a traffic patrol officer in Will County. He faced constant criticism for not writing enough tickets, letting speeders off with warnings and other . When he was transferred to the regular patrol division, Mach sued for age discrimination.
During discovery before the trial, it was clear he had no evidence for most of his allegations. Still, he continued the lawsuit. Ultimately, the judge tossed out many of his claims.
Will County asked for attorneys’ fees to cover expenses incurred from the end of discovery until dismissal, and the court agreed. It concluded Mach’s dismissed claims had been brought in bad faith and ordered him to pay up. (Mach v. Will County Sheriff, No. 08-2907, 7th Cir., 2009)
Final note: The court said it didn’t expect all losing litigants to have to pay their employers’ legal expenses. In this case, it was very clear that the county was right and the employee wrong. But cases like this may make employees’ attorneys think twice before adding multiple claims to a lawsuit just to see what might stick. That should reduce legal expenses.