In the court system, we typically follow the "American Rule" which means that each party to the lawsuit pays their own attorneys fees.
In employment discrimination matters (and some others), there are exceptions to that which allow a plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees to be paid by the Defendant-employer if the employer loses the case.
But there is one aspect of employment cases that allows for the payment of attorneys fees by the Defendant.
Under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 (commonly known simply as "Section 1983 claims"), and Section 1988, a trial court may award attorneys fees to a prevailing defendant if the court finds that the action was "frivolous, unreasonable or groundless or that the plaintiff continued to litigate it after it clearly became so".
In a decision that will be officially released on May 17, 2011, the Connecticut Supreme Court ratified these principles to Section 1983 claim brought in state court, and affirmed the granting of attorneys fees to a town which faced numerous amended complaints by a former employee. The case Singhaviroj v. Board of Education, can be downloaded here.
It did not take long for the court to find that fees were warranted here:
Upon review of the plaintiff’s original complaint and his four amended complaints, we conclude that the record supports the trial court’s decision awarding the defendants a portion of the attorney’s fees they incurred in defending against the plaintiff’s action. Indeed, as the defendants contend, all three factors to be considered in determining whether an action is frivolous are met in the present case: the plaintiff’s complaint failed to state a prima facie case, the defendant never offered to settle the case,and the action was dismissed prior to trial.
The case is an important victory to town and other public employers who, when faced with multiple frivolous claims, seem at the mercy of the court to endure these suits without any hope of recovery of fees. Even so, the victory in the case for the employer amounts to just $3000 — no doubt far more than their actual fees even just to deal with the appeal.
And unfortunately for the town, even clear victories like this may not end a plaintiff who is committed to his cause. As the Court noted in footnote 10, the plaintiff also commenced a separate action against the same defendants alleging "wrongful discharge, libel, slander, breach of contract, promissory estoppel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent misrepresentation and invasion of privacy by false light".