Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Great Steaks, Inc., No. 10-1756

Decided: January 28, 2012

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought a Title VII action against Great Steaks, Inc. accusing Great Steaks of subjecting female employees to a sexually hostile work environment. The jury rendered a verdict in Great Steaks’ favor. Great Steaks moved for an award of attorneys’ fees based on Title VII’s fee-shifting provision at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k); the Equal Access to Justice Act’s (EAJA) mandatory fee provision, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d); and 28 U.S.C. § 1927. The district court denied Great Steaks’ motion for attorneys’ fees, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. To obtain attorneys’ fees under Title VII’s fee-shifting provision, Great Steaks would have to show that the EEOC’s case was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court acted within its discretion in determining that the EEOC’s case was not frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless; and that inconsistencies in a former employee’s allegations and a contradictory affidavit from her co-worker simply created factual issues for a jury to resolve, and did not make her allegations frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless. The EAJA was unavailable to Great Steaks because Title VII contains its own fee-shifting provision. Therefore, any defendant who prevails against the EEOC in actions brought under Title VII may not invoke the EAJA’s mandatory fee provision. Finally, the court again held that the district court did not abuse its discretion under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 in failing to award attorneys’ fees.

Full Opinion

-Sara I. Salehi

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