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  • Court Costs

    On May 4, 2015, the California Supreme Court unanimously decided a case that will be a game-changer for lawsuits brought under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). In Williams v. Chino Valley Independent Fire District, the Court addressed the issue of when losing FEHA plaintiffs may be required to pay their opponents’ case costs. The Court held that a losing plaintiff may be ordered to pay a prevailing defendant’s costs only if the “court finds the action was objectively without foundation when brought, or the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.”

    Williams was a firefighter who sued his employer for disability discrimination in violation of FEHA. Williams lost the case on a summary judgment motion. The trial court then awarded the employer-defendant costs totaling $5,368.88. Williams appealed and the Court of Appeal affirmed.

    On review, the California Supreme Court explored two issues:

    Is a defendant prevailing in a FEHA action entitled to its ordinary court costs as a matter of right . . . or only in the discretion of the trial court . . . ? And, if the trial court does have discretion, must that discretion be exercised according to the rule applicable to attorney fee awards in certain federal civil rights actions under Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC (1978) 434 U.S. 412 (Christiansburg), according to which a prevailing defendant receives its attorney fees only if the plaintiff‘s action was objectively groundless?

    The California Supreme Court held that the FEHA allows the court . . .