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Don’t count on EEOC to pay your legal bills

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

The jubilation was short-lived after an employer won what would have been a significant victory that might have reduced the number of cases the EEOC litigates. Alas, an appeals court quickly turned the tables.

In the lower court’s ruling, an Iowa trucking company won $92,000 in costs when the EEOC lost a major sexual harassment case. The real kicker: The EEOC was ordered to pay more than $4 million in attorneys’ fees.

But when the EEOC appealed, several individual sexual harassment counts were reinstated. And because the employer was no longer the “prevailing party,” it lost the right to collect its attorneys’ fees from the EEOC.

Recent case: When the EEOC re­­ceived a sexual harassment complaint from a woman who said she had been sexually harassed during driving training with CRST, the agency opened up a wide-ranging in­­vestigation. Then, it sued on behalf of all female driver trainees who allegedly had been sexually harassed.

The EEOC claimed the women endured sexual harassment when they were paired with male partners during a two-week training program. One woman claimed forced sexual activity. Another claimed her partner constantly propositioned her, and made her dispose of bottles he had filled with urine. Yet another said the trainer refused to let her use a bathroom and instead humiliated her by making her urinate in a parking lot.

The lower court dismissed the claims, concluding in part that none of the alleged harassment was severe or that some of the individual claims should be dismissed on technicalities. It then awarded the company millions to compensate for having to litigate.

On appeal, the 8th Circuit reversed the damage award and reinstated several claims, including the ones above. (EEOC, et al., v. CRST, et al., No. 09-3764, 8th Cir., 2012)

Note: Don’t cry for the attorneys. They’ll no doubt get paid, just not by the EEOC.

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