Injunctive Relief Obtained Against Defense in ADA Class Action Inadequate to Support Attorney Fee Award Illinois Court Holds
Plaintiffs filed a class action against their employer, Rent-A-Center, alleging violations of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) arising out of the employer’s requirement that applicants take a psychological test in order to obtain management positions. Karraker v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., 431 F.Supp.2d 883, 885 (C.D. Ill. 2006). Specifically, the class action complaint alleged, “[Rent-A-Center] required all employees or outside applicants seeking management positions to submit to a battery of nine separate written tests. This battery of tests was commonly referred to as the Management Test. One of the individual exams included in the Management Test was the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). The MMPI is a psychological test used by psychologists to diagnose and treat individuals with abnormal psychological symptoms and personality traits.” Id. The district court ultimately certified a class defined as “All past and present employees of Defendant RAC in Illinois who took the APT Management Test.” Id. Defense attorneys prevailed on a motion for summary judgment as to all but a single wrongful termination claim. Id., at 886. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit generally affirmed the judgment in favor of the defense, but remanded the matter “so summary judgment could be entered in favor of Plaintiffs on their claim that the MMPI is a medical examination under the ADA.” Karraker, at 886. The district court entered that order and, pursuant to plaintiffs’ request, the defense agreed to destroy all test results obtained through the APT Management Test. Id. Defense attorneys then moved for summary judgment on the wrongful termination claim. The district court granted the defense motion, thereby resolving the balance of the class action lawsuit. Id.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer then filed a petition seeking an award of $267,000 in attorney fees. Karraker, at 886. The district court recognized that the ADA permits a court to award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party, see 42 U.S.C. § 12205, but held that plaintiffs did not qualify as the prevailing party under the following definition set forth at page 886:
“A party prevails in litigation ‘when actual relief on the merits of his claim materially alters the legal relationship between the parties by modifying the defendant’s behavior in a way that directly benefits the plaintiff.’ ” Krocka v. City of Chicago, 203 F.3d 507, 517 (7th Cir.2000), quoting Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111-12, 113 S.Ct. 566, 121 L.Ed.2d 494 (1992).
The federal court found instructive an Eleventh Circuit opinion, which held under similar circumstances that “‘[d]espite the fact that the court granted injunctive relief with respect to the County’s use of pre-employment psychological testing, there is neither evidence that this change in policy affected the relationship between Barnes and the County at the time judgment was rendered, nor any indication that Barnes directly benefited from the injunction.'” Karraker, at 887 (quoting Barnes v. Broward County Sheriff’s Office, 190 F.3d 1274, 1278 (11th Cir.1999)). The district court concluded that plaintiffs were not the prevailing party because defendant “had ceased administering the Management Test before Plaintiffs filed the instant action” and that the “only success” realized by plaintiffs “was a ruling that the MMPI is a medical examination under the ADA.” Id. Accordingly, plaintiffs were not entitled to recover any attorney fees because “Plaintiffs’ success on their ADA claim was de minimis and insufficient to support prevailing party status.” Id.
NOTE: The district court granted the unopposed motion to set the compensation for one of the class representatives at $5,000. Karraker, at 887.