EEOC to Pay More than $140,000 for Frivolous Litigation

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico has ordered the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pay more than $140,000 in legal fees to an employer it continued to sue after the EEOC should have known it could not prove its claims. EEOC v TriCore Reference Labs (D.N.M. 2011).

The EEOC claimed that TriCore failed to reasonably accommodate former employee Rhonda Wagoner-Alison’s disability, eventually terminating her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the EEOC acknowledged that Wagoner-Alison’s osteoarthritis rendered her unable to perform her job as a phlebotomist either with or without accommodation. According to the court, the EEOC should have stopped litigating as soon as it came to this realization, as it meant the EEOC was aware that it could not prevail on a theory of failure to provide reasonable accommodation.
Similarly, the court said, the EEOC should have known that it could not establish its discriminatory discharge claim. TriCore voluntarily placed Wagoner-Alison in a data entry position—an accommodation it was not required to provide—but the “EEOC did not meaningfully dispute” that she was eventually terminated from that position due to her poor performance, nor could it prove she was treated differently solely because of her disability.
EEOC’s continued pursuit of its ADA case against TriCore amounted to “frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless” litigation according to Judge John Conway. As a result, TriCore is entitled to recoup the $140,572 in attorneys’ fees it incurred defending the case after the point at which the EEOC should have known its claims were not provable.