Congratulations, you beat the EEOC! Just don’t expect to recover attorneys’ fees

It’s one of the sad realities of today’s litigious world: Even when you win a lawsuit, you’re seldom able to recoup all your legal fees unless you win big.

That’s true even if your opponent is the EEOC and it’s clear it didn’t have much of a case to begin with.

Recent case: The EEOC sued Ceridian Corp. after the company terminated James Shelton for alleged performance problems. Before the EEOC filed the lawsuit, Ceridian provided the agency with a long list of documents, including past performance evaluations and records showing how it treated other employees with similar jobs who didn’t belong to Shelton’s protected class.

After pretrial discovery proceedings, the company asked the court to dismiss the case. The EEOC decided to withdraw the case voluntarily.

The company then asked the court to order the EEOC to pay its legal fees. It argued that the EEOC knew as soon as it got company documents that there had been no discrimination.

The court rejected the request. It said that, because the EEOC’s lawsuit wasn’t frivolous, unreasonable or groundless, each party had to pay its own costs. (EEOC v. Ceridian, No. 07-4086, DC MN, 2009)

Final note:
When the EEOC seems to be heading toward litigation, have a talk with your attorneys about negotiating a settlement. It may well be more practical and less expensive to settle early on than to fight to the end with no assurance that you will recoup any of the litigation costs.