EEOC loses most of its claims; saves $4.5 million

This week in EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., No. 10-1682 (8th Circuit, February 22, 2012), the EEOC lost the lion’s share of its claims alleging sex discrimination and harassment against trucking behemoth CRST, Inc.  Only a handful of the over 250 claims of discrimination remain as a result of the 8th Circuit’s decision.  Yet, because just a few of those claims survived, the 8th Circuit determined that CRST was no longer a “prevailing party” entitled to attorney’s fees, and the court reversed a $4.5 million award of attorney’s fees in CRST’s favor.

The case is noteworthy for a number of reasons.  First, the court affirmed the district court’s strong reprimand againt the EEOC for its failure to investigate claims before filing a suit.  The court reiterated that the EEOC cannot use the civil discovery process as a means to identify and add claimants.  Instead, the EEOC must conduct pre-suit investigations, which can then lead to meaningful conciliation efforts, prior to suit.

The court also summarized nicely the current state of the law and standards in the Eighth Circuit with respect to hostile work environment claims, stressing inter alia that there is “no doubt federal harassment standards are demanding.” In CRST, the court also determined that lead drivers were akin to foremen, and they did not have the requisite responsibility to “hire, fire, promote, or reassign to significantly different duties,” to be considered a supervisor under Title VII.

The case is interesting in that, from a legal standpoint, the EEOC was roundly defeated, but they prevailed on just enough of the claim to avoid a very costly attorney’s fees sanction.

There are other important point of law, like the infrequently litigated defense of judicial estoppel, in the 54-page majority opinion.  You can review the opinion by clicking on the attached PDF.  EEOC v. CRST