Award of Attorney Fees in Employment Discrimination Case
Many employers when confronted with what they consider is a frivolous lawsuit filed by a current or former employee ask their lawyers whether they can recoup their attorney fees they expended to defend against the frivolous lawsuit if they are vindicated.
Usually, fee awards against employee plaintiffs are rare and it is very difficult for an employer to recoup its attorney fees defending against an employment discrimination lawsuit. However, as explained below, under certain circumstances attorney fees awards are available to the victorious employer.
U.S. Supreme Court Case
The U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Christianburg Garment Co. v. EEOC 434 U.S. 412(1978) held that fees will be awarded to Plaintiffs only if the court, in the exercise of its discretion, has found the claims were frivolous “unreasonable” and without foundation. In the case of Watson v. County of Yavapai. U.S. Court District Court, Judge Neil Wake recently held that the Plaintiff, who was terminated only after receiving appropriate disciplinary action for several year, was ordered to pay the attorney fees her employer incurred in defending the case. The court based its decision on the fact that Plaintiff’s claims lacked any objective basis since:
- The unequivocal evidence indicated that she was insubordination, disruptive and attacked on her supervisor.
- The employer had perfect record of compliance with Plaintiff’s request for FMLA and ADA accommodation requests.
The lesson to be learned from this case is that Employers should:
- Document negative conduct of its employees and discipline meted out to employees; and
- Consider and where reasonable grant employee accommodation requests based upon disability and medical issues.