Supreme Court hears attorneys’ fees, employment discrimination cases

Supreme Court hears attorneys’ fees, employment discrimination cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Monday in two cases. In Astrue v. Ratliff [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether an award of attorneys' fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) [28 USC § 2412] is payable to the prevailing party rather than to the party's attorneys so that is can be used to satisfy a pre-existing debt owed to the government. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the fees are awarded to the attorneys, shielding them from government debt offset. Counsel for the petitioner argued:

EAJA provides that in an appropriate case a court shall award to a prevailing party fees and other expenses incurred by that party. Every court of appeals to have addressed the question, including the court below, recognized that the plain meaning of EAJA's text directs payment of EAJA fees and other expenses to the prevailing party, not her attorneys.

Counsel for the respondent argued that, "the government's position was legally erroneous and was not even substantially justified."

In Lewis v. City of Chicago [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the court heard arguments on whether a plaintiff seeking to bring a disparate impact employment discrimination suit must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] within 300 days after test results are released or 300 days after hiring decisions are announced. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the statute of limitations began running when the allegedly disparate results were announced, not when hiring decisions were made. Counsel for the petitioners argued:

On 11 separate occasions, Chicago used an unlawful cutoff score to determine which applicants it would hire as firefighters. There is no dispute that the cutoff score had an adverse impact on qualified black applicants and was not job-related.

The only question presented is whether each use of the cutoff score in each of the hiring rounds was a separate violation of Title VII. An affirmative answer to that question is both the best reading of the statute and the soundest policy.

Counsel for the respondent, the city of Chicago, argued that petitioners' "position cannot be squared with the statute." The case involves minority firefighters in Chicago and follows the court's decision last term in Ricci v. DeStafano [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] regarding the disparate impact doctrine of Title VII.