Company Not Entitled to Award of Attorney Fees Based on Inability to Pay.


The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee denies the defendant's motion for attorney fees due to the inability of the defendant to show any bad faith as well as the fact that the plaintiff would not be able to pay the requested fees.

The plaintiff is a former employee of a commercial packaging company who was terminated from employment. The defendant is the company, his former employer.

The plaintiff filed a claim against the defendant alleging discriminatory employment practices in violation of various federal and state statutes, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Tennessee Disability Act, Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The plaintiff alleged that he was essentially fired in retaliation for seeking costs to cover his medical care. The defendant moved for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of all causes of action, and the court granted this motion. The defendant now seeks an award of attorney fees and costs of more than $150,000.

Discrimination claims under both GINA and ADA allow reasonable attorney fees to be awarded to the prevailing party and, as the prevailing party, the defendant argues it is entitled to attorney fees and costs incurred in having to defend against the plaintiff's claims.

The court states that a district court may in its discretion award attorney fees to a prevailing defendant upon a finding that a plaintiff's action was frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation, even if it was not brought in subjective bad faith. A plaintiff should not be assessed a defendant's attorney fees unless a court finds that the claim is groundless at the outset or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became groundless. An award of attorney fees against a losing plaintiff is an extreme sanction that should be limited to situations that are extremely egregious cases of misconduct.

The defendant argues that the plaintiff brought his claims without any evidentiary support and continued to litigate the claims after it became clear...

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