Appeals court orders EEOC to pay CRST $3.3 million

December 11, 2019

Mark Schremmer

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has ordered the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pay CRST Van Expedited more than $3.3 million in attorney fees following “frivolous” claims in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

A panel of three judges delivered the opinion on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

The order is the latest in a saga that has lasted more than a decade. In 2007, the EEOC filed a class action lawsuit against CRST claiming the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based trucking company created a “sexually hostile” work environment. The class originally included about 250 members.

(H3) History
A district court ruled that the EEOC must investigate each claim of sexual harassment before filling a class action lawsuit and awarded CRST about $4.6 million in attorney fees and court costs. In 2014, the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision. Then, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit’s decision in 2016.

The Supreme Court vacated the Eighth Circuit’s judgment and “remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.” The Eighth Circuit then kicked the case back to the district court, which ruled that “the EEOC’s practice of presenting a moving target of claimants was an unreasonable litigation tactic, the direct result of which was these claims.” The district court determined that CRST was entitled to a fee award for the claims that were dismissed on summary judgment.

The district court found that the claims of seven women and portions of two other women’s claims were not “wholly frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless,” but that the remaining claims were frivolous for a variety of reasons. CRST was awarded $3.3 million in attorney fees.

“The claimants admitted that they never utilized CRST’s reporting procedure … and thus failed to give CRST proper notice,” the district court wrote. “The claimants that complained to CRST of sexual harassment had their complaints properly and promptly remedied.”

(H3) The ruling
In response, EEOC appealed the decision back to the Eighth Circuit.

The appeals court affirmed the district court’s ruling.

“The district court’s finding that the EEOC’s failure to conciliate and investigate the claims was an unreasonable litigation tactic that resulted in frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless claims is consistent with this court’s prior observation that the EEOC wholly failed to satisfy its statutory pre-suit obligations,” the Eighth Circuit wrote. “The EEOC could not hold a reasonable belief that it satisfied its pre-suit obligations when it ‘wholly failed to satisfy’ them.”

MATS

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.