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Prevailing Party May Get Attorney Fees Even if No Damages Awarded
Description Appeals court upheld a decision that an employee who prevailed in a discrimination case, but was not awarded damages, could still be awarded attorney fees, as permitted by law at the discretion of the trial court.
Topic Employment Discrimination
Key Words Religious Discrimination; Retaliatory Discharge; Nominal Damages; Attorney Fees
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Ollis was a sales associate for HearthStone, a company that built and sold homes. Ollis belongs to the Assembly of God Church. The president of HearthStone, Smith, believes in reincarnation and that past lives can explain what happens to a person now. He used Mind Body Energy (MBE) sessions at work at times to "cleanse negative energy" from employees. He encouraged people to attend MBE courses and read materials issued by the organization. He brought in MBE speakers and strongly encouraged employees to attend such sessions. Ollis thought MBE was contrary to his religion, but was told by his supervisor he may get fired if he spoke up against it. The month before Ollis was fired, a new sales associate was put under his supervision. She claimed Ollis asked her personal questions about her sex life that made her uncomfortable. Ollis was fired "for poor leadership and lack of judgment." He sued for religious discrimination and retaliation. The jury held for Ollis but awarded him nominal damages of $1. The court approved Ollis's motion for attorney fees and costs. HearthStone appealed.
Decision Affirmed. The dispute in this case was properly put to the jury for determination. Its holding therefore stands. The arguments made by both sides about Smith's actions involving MBE and the claim that Ollis behaved improperly toward an associate were all for the jury to consider. Since Ollis was the prevailing party, regardless of the damages awarded the trial judge may issue attorney fees and costs within his judgment. There is no reason to interfere with that decision, which was the award of reasonable attorney fees minus 25 percent because of the failure of Ollis to prove compensatory damages.
Citation Ollis v. HearthStone Homes, Inc.,---F.3d--- (2007 WL 2141674, 8th Cir., 2007)

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