On May 19, 2016, the Supreme Court decided CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. EEOC. In 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a sexual harassment suit against CRST Van Expedited (CRST) on behalf of approximately 270 female employees. When a number failed to appear for depositions, however, the district court barred the EEOC from pursuing their claims as a discovery sanction. The remaining claims were dismissed on various other grounds, including 67 claims that the district court dismissed for failure of the EEOC to separately investigate, find reasonable cause for, or attempt to conciliate them. In addition, the court awarded CRST some $4.46 million in attorney’s fees and expenses, on the basis that the claims were frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all but two claims, vacated the award of fees and costs, and remanded the case. On remand, one of the remaining claims was withdrawn and the other settled. CRST renewed its petition for fees, costs, and expenses, and the district court again awarded it approximately $4.6 million.
On a second appeal, the Eighth Circuit again reversed the award, finding that claims which had been dismissed for the EEOC’s failure to meet presuit obligations could not serve as grounds for a fees award, and remanding for an individualized determination as to whether other claims were frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.
The U.S. Supreme Court granted CRST’s subsequent petition for certiorari, vacating the judgment of the Eighth Circuit and remanding the case by a vote of 8-0. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for a unanimous Court held that a favorable ruling on the merits is not a necessary predicate to find that a defendant is a prevailing party for purposes of awarding attorney’s fees award. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion.
To discuss the case, we have Kenton J. Skarin, who is an Associate at Jones Day.