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Court: Employers can collect costs after win

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in Human Resources

If an employer loses a discrimination case, it typically has to pay the employee’s legal fees and associated costs plus any damages due. Theoretically, the same is true if the employee loses: The employer should then be entitled to reimbursement for defending the case.

However, that traditionally only happens following obviously frivolous cases that employees bring in bad faith.

That doesn’t mean, however, that an employer that wins a case won’t get anything from the other side. Judges have begun assessing legal costs to the losing side. Such costs typically include expenses associated with defending a lawsuit such as deposition fees, copying costs and expert witness expenses.

Recent case: Susan Keeshan, an obstetrician/gynecologist of Jewish and Hispanic heritage, worked for a cooperative medical clinic in an underserved area. Because she had received a medical school scholarship from the federal government, she was required to give back four years of medical service in a poor area such as the one the clinic served. She signed a four-year contract to work at the clinic.

Keeshan had no work problems for the first two years. Then she got into a disagreement with the clinic director over time off she wanted to schedule for elective surgery. They exchanged angry e-mails.

Things got worse when another doctor joined the clinic. She was black, and Keeshan resented the fact that the new doctor refused to refer to Keeshan by her academic title: Dr. Keeshan. She complained that the new doctor referred to other black employees as “brothers and sisters.”

Finally, the clinic and Keeshan parted ways after she complained about discrimination in favor of black employees. She sued, but a jury concluded she had no case. The judge ordered Keeshan to pay the clinic’s legal costs.

She appealed, arguing she had sued in good faith. The 4th Circuit said it didn’t matter; she was still responsible for costs. (Keeshan v. Eau Claire Cooperative Health Centers, et al., No. 08-1270, 4th Cir., 2010)

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