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Supreme Court to weigh EEOC paying attorneys' fees in dismissed case

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The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is obligated to pay $4.7 million in attorneys' fees that a trucking firm amassed while battling a sexual discrimination claim that was ultimately settled for $50,000.

The EEOC filed suit against Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based CRST Van Expedited Inc. in 2007, alleging the firm had subjected 270 women in its training program to a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1967.

In 2012, a divided three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis essentially upheld a ruling by a U.S. District Court judge in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, dismissing the EEOC's suit, which also alleged sexual propositioning, sexual assault and rape.

The 8th Circuit partially affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the case, but reversed the lower court's grant of summary judgment against two of the plaintiffs and remanded the case for further proceedings. The EEOC subsequently withdrew its claim on behalf of one plaintiff, and the other case was settled for $50,000.

The District Court also ordered the EEOC to pay $4.7 million in legal fees, in a ruling the 8th Circuit overturned in December 2014. A three-judge appeals court panel unanimously held in that ruling that the District Court had “made no particularized findings as to why the EEOC's appeal to this court was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation,” as required in order for the agency to be forced to pay attorneys' fees.

CRST filed its petition for certiorari with the high court after the full 8th Circuit refused to reconsider the case.

The question the Supreme Court agreed to consider is whether the case's dismissal “can form the basis of an attorney's award fee to the defendant.”