Last week, Chief Judge of the Northern District of Iowa, Linda Reade, issued an order requiring the EEOC to pay to Defendant CRST Van Expedited the sum of $4.56 million in attorney’s fees, expenses, and costs. Defendant CRST is a trucking company that the EEOC had sued in federal court alleging that a large number of female employees had been sexually harassed. Judge Reade based her attorney’s fees award on what she termed a "sue first and ask questions later" litigation tactic.
The Workplace Prof Blog provides a brief summary of the facts:
One employee of CRST filed a charge in 2005, alleging that she had been subject to sexual harassment at CRST, including both hostile environment and quid pro quo claims. The EEOC did not complete its investigation within 180 days and that woman did not seek a right to sue letter. In 2007, the EEOC brought an action against CRST on behalf of the woman and unspecified others. The woman intervened, and as other plaintiffs were found, they were added, and they intervened. At some point, the EEOC identified about 270 women it said had been harassed. It made 150 of them available to CRST for depositions.
Last summer and fall, the district court dismissed claims on behalf of some of the women and entered summary judgment against the claims on behalf of most of the rest and on behalf of the EEOC itself for a variety of reasons–mostly that the EEOC failed to provide sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer a pattern or practice of tolerating sexual harassment. That order was reported at 611 F. Supp. 2d 918, and claims on behalf of sixty-seven women remained. Ultimately, the court dismissed the action as to those women because the EEOC had not investigated the charges of these women before it filed the action, nor did it attempt to conciliate their claims and avoid litigation. It ended up creating a huge burden on CRST and the court [emphasis added].
The EEOC can pursue a pattern or practice case, including seeking monetary relief on behalf of a group of individuals, without meeting the Rule 23 requirements for class certification.
In rejecting the EEOC’s "pattern or practice claims," in a Feb. 9, 2010, decision, Judge Reade wrote, "The EEOC’s criticisms of CRST’s anti-sexual harassment policy are not well-taken. . . . To show a pattern or practice of unlawful employment practices, the EEOC must do more than quibble with alleged deficiencies in CRST’s anti-sexual harassment policy and practices. It must cite legal authority.”
Judge Reade found that the award of $4.56 million in fees against the EEOC was warranted because the EEOC, among other things, “acted unreasonably by suing CRST without conducting a proper investigation.”
Well–now we know that not just employers can get into trouble for failing to investigate properly.