Fedweek Legal

In a recent decision, the EEOC reaffirmed its hesitancy to reduce attorney fee awards to a complainant because the complainant prevailed on some but not all claims. In Ighile v. Dep’t of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0720220020 (April 13, 2012), the EEOC reviewed the decision of an administrative judge who had awarded full attorney fees to a complainant who prevailed on a claim of hostile work environment, but not on his claim of disparate treatment.

Ighile, an education specialist with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, brought an EEO claim alleging that the agency had subjected him to discrimination based on race (black), sex (male), national origin (Nigerian), and reprisal, when he received verbally abusive emails, threats of physical abuse, and discriminatory remarks from agency employees and was suspended. Later, Ighile filed another EEO case, again alleging discrimination based on race (black), sex (male), national origin (Nigerian), and reprisal, when another employee posted a negative news article about Nigerians on a staff bulletin board, and other coworkers made disparaging remarks related to the article about him.

The administrative judge who heard the case found that the agency had subjected Ighile to a hostile work environment based on race and national origin, but found that suspending Ighile had not been an act of discrimination or reprisal. In addition to awarding non-pecuniary compensatory damages, the administrative judge also awarded $23,440 in attorney fees. The agency appealed the decision, arguing that because Ighile had not succeeding in claiming that his suspension was a discriminatory act, the administrative judge should have reduced the award of attorney fees to reflect only partial success on his claims.

Upon review of the administrative judge’s decision to award full attorney fees, the Commission found that Ighile’s suspension claim was so closely related to his other claims that reducing the attorney fees award was not appropriate. While it noted that it could not award attorney fees for work on unsuccessful claims, the EEOC would not exclude the hours spent on unsuccessful claims unless those claims were "distinct in all respects from the successful claims." In this case, the same coworker who made the accusations against Ighile that led to his suspension was also one who had sent the offensive emails and posted the harmful new article. The Commission noted that the legal theories underlying Ighile’s disparate treatment suspension claim were related to the harassment theory that supported his hostile work environment claim.

This case reaffirms that where there is at least some connection between successful and unsuccessful claims, the Commission will be reluctant to reduce attorney fees simply because the complainant did not prevail in proving every allegation raised.

* This information is provided by the attorneys at Passman & Kaplan, P.C., a law firm dedicated to the representation of federal employees worldwide. For more information on Passman & Kaplan, P.C., go to http://www.passmanandkaplan.com.

The attorneys at Passman & Kaplan, P.C, are the authors of The Federal Employees Legal Survival Guide, Second Edition, a comprehensive overview of federal employees’ legal rights. To order your copy, go to http://www.passmanandkaplan.com/CM/Custom/Federal-Employees-Survival-Guide.asp . This book originally sold for $49.95 plus s&h, but is now available for $29.95 plus s&h.