Laughing Matter? -- Fee Award Remanded For Further Factual Determinations Regarding Frivolousness.
In CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. EEOC, No. 14-1375 (U.S. Supreme Court May 19, 2016), SCOTUS was reviewing a fee award in favor of a defendant and against the EEOC in an amount of over $4 million after a district judge determined that defendant prevailed under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k), a fee-shifting statute discretionarily allowing a district court to award fees to a prevailing defendant in employment discrimination actions. However, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the fee order, determining that defendant did not obtain a merits ruling in its favor (given that judgment was entered based on some condition precedent procedural noncompliance issues).
SCOTUS reversed based on the central issue for which certiorari was granted. It determined that a defendant does not have to obtain a merits ruling, simply a favorable one, in order to be considered as a “prevailing party” under section 2000e-5(k). However, it remanded to consider whether a fee order was justified especially given EEOC’s “new” argument that its case had to be deemed frivolous so as to justify a fee award.