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Supreme Court decision in legal fees case could clip EEOC's wings

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Employers can expect the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to continue to be aggressive this year, but it is hoped that an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision will outline some standards the agency must follow in its litigation, says an expert.

Gerald L. Maatman Jr., a partner at Seyfarth Shaw L.L.P. in Chicago, pointed to the Supreme Court's acceptance for review EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited Inc.

The case focuses on the issue of whether the EEOC must pay $4.7 million in legal fees that a trucking firm spent defending itself from sexual discrimination charges involving hundreds of workers, in a case where the agency largely did not prevail.

The court's ruling in the case “will impact the manner in which the EEOC operates,” said Mr. Maatman. Mr. Maatman's firm issued its annual EEOC report, “EEOC-Initiated Litigation Case Law Developments in 2015 and Trends to Watch for in 2016” in December.

Mr. Maatman said among other EEOC-related developments that can be expected this year, is that the agency is going to continue to “push the envelope” in the type of lawsuits it files, including those that reflect its position that federal discrimination law covers transgendered individuals. It is an “effort to convince corporate America to act in certain ways on the pain of being sued if you don't,” Mr. Maatman said.

A third thrust of EEOC activity this year will be the Americans with Disabilities Act, which accounted for about a third of the EEOC's cases last year, Mr. Maatman said.

Mr. Maatman said trends the Seyfarth Shaw uncovered for its annual report on last year's EEOC activity included the importance of location in terms of where the agency files its lawsuits.

EEOC decision-making “takes place at a local regional level, and so among the various district offices of the EEOC there are patterns, and the study slices and dices those patterns by industry, by geography, and by type of case,” he said.

The EEOC's Philadelphia office, for instance, “files more ADA case than any other district,” while its Chicago and Phoenix offices are more likely than others to file cases focusing on systemic discrimination, Mr. Maatman said.