United States District Court, D. Nevada
R. HICKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court is defendant DTE Energy's (“DTE”)
motion for attorney's fees and costs. ECF No. 111.
Plaintiff Naomi Heneage (“Heneage”) filed an
opposition to the motion (ECF No. 113) to which DTE replied
(ECF No. 116).
Facts and Procedural Background
Newmont Energy Investment, LLC (“Newmont”) owns
the TS Power Plant in Dunphy, Nevada. In late 2005, Newmont
and DTE entered into a contract for the operation of the
power plant whereby DTE would operate the power plant on
Newmont's behalf. Under the agreement, DTE was
responsible for staffing and running the power plant while
Newmont set operating objectives for the plant. To meet its
staffing needs, DTE held a job fair in Elko, Nevada, during
which plaintiff Heneage applied for a position with DTE.
Heneage was eventually hired as a shift supervisor and began
her employment at the plant in March 2007.
early 2010, Newmont unilaterally terminated the operating
agreement with DTE effective June 30, 2010. As a result of
Newmont's termination of the operating agreement, all DTE
power plant employees were terminated on June 30, including
Heneage. Defendant Newmont then allowed current DTE employees
to apply for retention employment at the plant. Heneage
applied for retention employment, but was not retained by
September 23, 2011, Heneage filed a complaint against both
DTE and Newmont alleging two causes of action: (1) Title VII
gender discrimination and retaliation; and (2) Family Medical
Leave Act (“FMLA”) retaliation. ECF No 2. In
response, defendants filed a motion for judgment on the
pleadings (ECF No. 32) which was granted by the court (ECF
No. 42). Heneage then appealed the court's order of
dismissal to the Ninth Circuit. ECF No. 44. On June 18, 2015,
the Ninth Circuit affirmed in-part and reversed in-part the
court's order of dismissal. ECF No. 52. In particular,
the Ninth Circuit held that Heneage had raised a permissible
inference of gender discrimination by defendant Newmont as
well as a permissible inference of Title VII retaliation by
both defendants. Id.
October 22, 2015, Heneage filed a second amended complaint
against defendants alleging two causes of action: (1) Title
VII gender discrimination against defendant Newmont; and (2)
Title VII retaliation against both defendants. ECF No. 63. In
response, DTE filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No.
87) which was granted by the court (ECF No. 108). Thereafter,
DTE filed the present motion for attorney's fees and
costs. ECF No. 111.
Title VII action, the court, in its discretion, may allow the
prevailing party reasonable attorney's fee. See
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). Generally, “successful
plaintiffs in civil rights actions are awarded attorneys'
fees as a matter of course.” Salley v. Truckee
Meadows Water Auth., 2015 WL 1414038, at *7-8 (D. Nev.
Mar. 27, 2015). However, “prevailing defendants are
awarded fees only in ‘exceptional cases, ' lest
plaintiffs with legitimate claims be deterred from filing
suit.” Id.; see also Harris v. Maricopa
Cnty. Superior Court, 631 F.3d 963, 968 (9th Cir. 2011)
(“Our laws encourage individuals to seek relief for
violations of their civil rights, and allow a defendant to
recover fees and costs from a plaintiff in a civil rights
case only ‘in exceptional circumstances' in which
the plaintiff's claims are ‘frivolous, unreasonable
or without foundation.'”). An exceptional case for
awarding attorney's fees for a prevailing defendant is a
case where the plaintiff's claims were
“unreasonable, frivolous, meritless, or
vexatious.” Christianburg Garment Co. v. EEOC,
434 U.S. 412, 321 (1978). In determining whether a
plaintiff's case was frivolous or vexatious, a district
court must begin by assessing the claim “at the time
the complaint was filed.” Tutor-Saliba Corp. v.
City of Hailey, 452 F.3d 1055, 1060 (9th Cir. 2006).
court has reviewed the documents and pleadings on file in
this matter and finds that the present action does not
constitute an “exceptional case” warranting
attorney's fees for defendant DTE. The court finds that
at the time of the filing of Heneage's complaint, her
claims were not frivolous or vexatious. Although her initial
complaint was dismissed by the court, the Ninth Circuit
specifically found that she had raised permissible inferences
of gender discrimination and Title VII retaliation in her
complaint. Thus, her complaint was not unreasonable at the
time it was filed. Moreover, judgment was only entered in
favor of DTE on Heneage's claims after a substantial
evidentiary record had been established and the merits of
Heneage's claims could be fully assessed. As such, the
court finds that her claims for discrimination and
retaliation, although ultimately unsuccessful, were not
frivolous, unreasonable, vindictive, or groundless.
Therefore, the court finds that attorney's fees are not
warranted in this action.
also seeks an award of costs. See Doc. #127. Rule 54
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the awarding
of costs to a prevailing party. See Fed. R. Civ. P.
54. With limited exceptions, a prevailing party is entitled
to reasonable costs. In this district, the prevailing party
seeking an award of costs must serve and submit a bill of
costs to the clerk who makes initial costs determinations.
See LR 54-1. Therefore, the court shall not award
costs at this time.
THEREFORE ORDERED that defendant's motion for
attorney's fees ...