Here’s some good news for employers facing a clearly frivolous lawsuit: The employee bringing the lawsuit may find himself on the hook for the employer’s legal fees.
That only seems fair since employers often have to foot the bill for an employee’s successful lawsuit.
Recent case: Francis, who refers to himself as an American Indian, sued Stanford University after it fired him for alleged sexual harassment. He had received several warnings before his termination, but he had continued to harass a co-worker. Francis eventually found himself the subject of a restraining order.
In his lawsuit, he alleged that he had really been targeted because of his “native ancestry.” However, during discovery he couldn’t identify any shred of evidence other than his own opinion that Stanford discriminated against him. The court did allow his retaliation claim to go to a jury, which promptly rendered a verdict for Stanford.
The university then asked the court to order Francis to cough up legal fees. The court agreed he should pay half the fees, based on the dismissal of his discrimination claim for lack of any evidence.
Francis appealed, to no avail. He will now have to pay Stanford $100,000. (Robert v. Stanford University, H037514, Court of Appeal of California, 6th Appellate District 2014)
Final note: Of course, Francis may never pay up if he has no assets. Still, this sends the message that employees risk something if they file frivolous lawsuits.