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No Attorneys’ Fees Recoverable In Mixed-Motive Retaliation Cases

Published by on June 4, 2013

In Carter v. Luminant Power Serv. Co., No. 12-10642 (5th Cir., April 3, 2013), the Fifth Circuit found that  attorneys’ fees are not recoverable for a prevailing plaintiff in a Title VII mixed-motive retaliation case.  More after the break. Plaintiff Anthony Carter sued Luminant in federal district court, alleging that Luminant disciplined him in retaliation for […]

In Carter v. Luminant Power Serv. Co., No. 12-10642 (5th Cir., April 3, 2013), the Fifth Circuit found that  attorneys’ fees are not recoverable for a prevailing plaintiff in a Title VII mixed-motive retaliation case.  More after the break.

Plaintiff Anthony Carter sued Luminant in federal district court, alleging that Luminant disciplined him in retaliation for his complaints of racial discrimination.  A jury agreed with Carter—in part.  It found that Carter’s complaints motivated Luminant’s decision to discipline him.  The jury also found, however, that Luminant proved the “mixed-motive defense.”  Luminant established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it would have made the “same decision” irrespective of his complaints.  The district court entered judgment in Luminant’s favor and taxed all costs against Carter.  Carter moved to re-tax costs and sought an award of attorney’s fees, relying on § 2000e-5(g)(2)(B)(i). The district court concluded that the provision was inapplicable to “a mixed-motive retaliation claim” like Carter’s and denied his motion. Carter appealed.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.  “By its plain terms,” the fee and cost-shifting provision in § 2000e-5(g) applies only to violations of § 2000e-2(m).  Section 2000e-2(m) provides that “an unlawful employment practice is established when the complaining party demonstrates that race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was a motivating factor for any employment practice, even though other factors also motivated the practice.”  Section 2000e-2(m), does not provide, however, that an employment practice motivated in part by retaliation is unlawful. – i.e. retaliation does not violate § 2000e-2(m).  Consequently, § 2000e-5(g)(2)(B)(i) does not authorize cost- and fee-shifting for retaliation claims.

A copy of the decision can be found here.

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