Tuesday, August 23, 2011

EEOC garners $2.6 million fee award … but not how you think

A Michigan federal judge has slammed the EEOC for its “reckless sue first, ask questions later strategy.” After 11 years of litigation, the court awarded the EEOC’s target, Cintas Corporation, $2,638,443.93 in attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses from the agency.

The court justified its astronomical award based on the EEOC’s failure to investigate before filing suit, and dilatory tactics before and after filing suit:

  • The EEOC did not investigate the specific allegations of any of the thirteen allegedly aggrieved persons until after the Serrano plaintiffs filed their initial complaint, and after it filed its own complaint years later.
  • The EEOC did not engage in any conciliation measures as required by § 706 prior to filing suit on behalf of the named Plaintiffs.
  • The EEOC did not identify any of the thirteen allegedly aggrieved persons as members of the “class” until after the EEOC filed its initial complaint.
  • The EEOC failed to make an individualized reasonable cause determination as to the specific allegations of any of the thirteen named plaintiffs in this action….

During the course of its involvement in this case, the EEOC filed, and lost, over a dozen motions. Furthermore, Cintas was forced to file a number of motions because of the EEOC’s failure to properly respond to Cintas’ discovery requests. Cintas succeeded on all of these motions, and the EEOC’s conduct served only to prolong this decade-long litigation…. In his March 2, 2010 Order Granting Motion to Compel, Magistrate Judge Scheer stated, “There appears to be no purpose for [the EEOC’s] position [to withhold the questionnaires] other than to increase the difficulty and expense of the defense of this action by Cintas.”

Employers, if you’ve ever been sued by the EEOC, you know it is never fun to be in its crosshairs. Unlike you, the agency does not pay lawyers to litigate for it, and has seemingly unlimited resources to make your lives a living hell. Take heart, though, that there are judges who will hold the EEOC’s feet to the litigation fire. As this case illustrates, it is possible to beat the EEOC at its own game. But, it’s going to take perseverance.

A copy of the Court’s 31-page opinion is available here.

Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com.