The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals just gave employees a reason to think twice before filing a frivolous law suit. The Court required an employee to pay his employer $235,249.80 for filing a frivolous employment discrimination claim. See Hamilton v. Sheridan Healthcorp, Inc., No. 16-10667, 2017 WL 2665040 (11th Cir. Jun. 21, 2017)(“Hamilton II“). This was the second time that Dr. Dwain Hamilton filed an appeal with the Eleventh Circuit.
In 2015, the Court affirmed dismissal of Dr. Hamilton’s discrimination claims against his employer, Sheridan Healthcorp. See Hamilton v. Sheridan Healthcorp, Inc., 602 Fed. App’x 485 (11th Cir. 2015)(“Hamilton I“). In Hamilton I, Dr. Hamilton claimed that he was transferred from a night shift position to day shift, and later terminated, because of his race. But, the trial court and the Eleventh Circuit both found that he was unable to establish a basic, prima facie, case of discrimination. Dr. Hamilton also attempted to claim that he was terminated in retaliation for complaining about discrimination. Yet, the Eleventh Circuit found that he offered no evidence to support that claim, and actually changed his testimony in an after-the-fact attempt to create a claim.
After prevailing, Sheridan Healthcorp asked the trial court to award it $235,249.80 in attorneys’ fees spent defending Hamilton I. Employers rarely win such requests, because fees can only be awarded if an employee’s claim is “frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.” Christianburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 422 (1978). Courts are usually reluctant to call any claim “frivolous,” but that’s exactly what the trial court did in Hamilton II. The Eleventh Circuit reviewed the trial court’s decision and affirmed in Hamilton II.
Hamilton II provides a warning to employees: Think carefully before filing that employment discrimination claim. If a court finds that claims are frivolous, then the employee is potentially on the hook for the employer’s legal fees.