SCOTUS Benchslap For EEOC On the Way?

In EEOC Silent on Sanctions (August 2013), we reported on CRST Van Expedited, in which a federal district court awarded an employer $4.69 million in attorneys’ fees against the EEOC for the agency’s mishandling of a supposed pattern and practice sexual harassment suit. Regrettably, in Santa Gives EEOC a Gift-For Now (December 2014) we reported on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals’ reversal of that decision. There is hope, however. The Supreme Court last Friday agreed to hear the case. CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. EEOC, Dkt. No. 14-1375.

The case began with what has become the EEOC’s go-to play—expanding single-plaintiff claims into putative class and pattern/practice claims. The district court found the EEOC blew the case out of proportion, failed to engage in meaningful investigation, mediation, or conciliation, and instead based the broad claims on just two individual employees. The 8th Circuit reversed the award based on the Circuit’s rule that courts cannot award fees if the court never reached the merits. Because the court dismissed the class claims based on the EEOC’s pre-suit conduct, the Circuit Court reasoned that it was powerless to affirm the fee award.

The Supreme Court’s grant of review in this case means the Court could specify remedies available to employers when the EEOC expands its suit far beyond the scope of the actual facts investigated, mediated, and conciliated. With luck, the Court will rule that employers may receive substantial fees for such misconduct.