CRST trucking suit settled; government to pay millions in legal fees

The federal government has been ordered to pay $4.4 million in legal fees and expenses incurred by a Cedar Rapids trucking company.

CRST Van Expedited was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of some 230 women drivers and trainees for allegedly failing to protect them against sexual harassment by male driver trainers and other employees. All except four of the cases were dismissed last year in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids.

CRST had been seeking $7.6 million in attorneys fees and $569,564 in expenses from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Chief U.S. District Judge Linda Reade ruled that CRST was entitled to recover attorney’s fees and court costs because the government mishandled the case. She ruled the EEOC didn’t investigate the specific allegations of the individual drivers before filing a legal complaint, “let alone issue a reasonable cause determination as to those allegations or conciliate them.” As a result, Reade found CRST didn’t have a meaningful opportunity to settle the complaints without the expense of a federal lawsuit.

After the EEOC objected to the hefty fees claim last November, CRST reduced its attorneys fees claim to $7,624,546.

The decision on costs highlighted the difference between legal rates charged by CRST’s local law firm, Simmons Perrine, and the Chicago office of a national law firm, Jenner & Block, that submitted most of the billings.

One Jenner & Block attorney, John Mathias, billed the case at $825 per hour, and one of the Jenner & Block paralegals, Cheryl Kras, billed at a $256 per hour rate, which was higher than all but one of the Simmons & Perrine attorneys.

Judge Reade ruled that the case did not involve a specialized area of law that prevented CRST from retaining local counsel, and therefore did not entitle CRST to recover a higher “national rate” charged by Jenner & Block than the local prevailing rate for legal services.

The judge also threw out a claim by CRST for $70,855 to videotape depositions of witnesses in the case, saying that it was entitled to recover only transcription costs for the depositions.

The EEOC is seeking to appeal the District Court’s ruling in the case.

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