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Aguillard v. Louisiana College

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

December 13, 2019

JOE W. AGUILLARD
v.
LOUISIANA COLLEGE

          Judge MARK L. HORNSBY

          RULING

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Louisiana College's (“LC”) Motion for Attorney Fees [Doc. No. 137]. Plaintiff Joe Aguillard (“Aguillard”) filed a memorandum in opposition to the motion. [Doc. No. 145]. LC filed a reply [Doc. No. 146].

         For the following reasons, LC's Motion for Attorney Fees is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Aguillard filed this civil action against LC, his former employer. LC is a private college associated with the Baptist faith. Aguillard originally asserted religious discrimination and retaliation claims under the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e, as amended (“Title VII”); and disability discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims under the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (“ADA”). Aguillard subsequently asserted an ADA retaliation claim alleging LC filed a defamation lawsuit against him in retaliation for his filing of an ADA “Charge of Discrimination” and a “Whistleblower Complaint.”

         On September 19, 2018, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of LC dismissing Aguillard's religious discrimination and retaliation claims. [Doc. Nos. 30, 31]. On April 4, 2019, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of LC dismissing Aguillard's claims of disability discrimination and disability-based retaliation, as well as any disability-based hostile work environment claims Aguillard may have made. [Doc. Nos. 70, 71]. On August 26, 2019, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of LC dismissing Aguillard's ADA defamation/retaliation claim. [Doc. Nos. 116, 117].

         LC now seeks attorney fees relating to its defense of Aguillard's Title VII and ADA claims.[1]

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Attorney Fees Law

         Under Title VII, a court may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). When a defendant is the prevailing party in a Title VII case, such an award may be made only “where the court finds that [the plaintiff's] claim was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless, or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so, ” or that the plaintiff brought a claim in bad faith. Provensal v. Gaspard, 524 Fed. App'x. 974, 976 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 34 U.S. 412');">434 U.S. 412, 422 (1978)).

         Under the costs provision of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), attorney fees may also be awarded to the defendant “if the plaintiff's action was frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation.” Webster v. Bd. of Supervisors, No. 13-6613, 2016 WL 4467750, *2 (E.D. La. Aug. 24, 2016) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12205 and Christiansburg, supra).

         “[T]o determine whether a suit is frivolous, a court must ask whether the case is so lacking in arguable merit as to be groundless or without foundation rather than whether ‘the claim was ultimately successful.'” Stover v. Hattiesburg Pub. Sch. Dist ., 549 F.3d 985, 997-98 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Jones v. Texas Tech Univ., 37');">656 F.2d 1137, 1145 (5th Cir.1981))

         Claims do not need to be “airtight” to avoid being frivolous, and courts must be careful not to use the benefit of perfect hindsight in assessing frivolousness. Christiansburg, 434 U.S. at 421-22. In assessing frivolity, courts in this circuit look primarily to three factors: (1) whether the plaintiff established a prima facie case, (2) whether the defendant offered to settle, and (3) whether the court held a full trial. Myers v. City of West Monroe, 3d 289');">211 F.3d 289, 292 (5th Cir. 2000). As further stated in Provensal, supra, “[t]hese factors are ‘guideposts,' and frivolousness must be judged on a case-by-case basis . . . Where a claim is ‘so lacking in merit' as to render it groundless, it may be classified as frivolous.” Id., 524 Fed. App'x. at 976 (quoting United States v. Mississippi, 921 F.2d 604, 609 (5th Cir. 1991)). Also, “[a] claim is frivolous if a ...


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