In Robert v. Stanford Univ., ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Feb. 25, 2014), the California Court of Appeal (Sixth Appellate District) affirmed the order of the Santa Clara County Superior Court (Judge Hansen) requiring the plaintiff employee to pay $100,000 in attorneys’ fees to the defendant employer.
Plaintiff’s employment was terminated because of his sexual harassment of a female employee that resulted in a restraining order being issued against him. Nevertheless, plaintiff then sued defendant for, among other claims, discrimination based on his race (Native American), arguing that the defendant’s reason for terminating his employment was really just a pretext. Representing himself at trial, plaintiff offered no evidence that defendant discriminated against him because of his race other than his own subjective belief. Consequently, defendant moved for a nonsuit, which the trial court granted. The jury rendered a verdict for the defense on plaintiff’s remaining claims. Defendant then moved to recover its attorneys’ fees on the grounds that plaintiff was “vexatious” and that his lawsuit was without merit and had been designed to “harass” defendant. The trial court agreed and awarded defendant $100,000 in attorneys’ fees, finding that plaintiff’s discrimination claim “was without merit and was frivolous and vexatious.” Plaintiff appealed.
The appellate upheld the trial court’s ruling, concluding the following: that defendant “asserted that it had terminated [plaintiff] due to his harassment of another employee. Before [plaintiff] even initiated his FEHA action, this court had already upheld a restraining order against [plaintiff] based on this harassment. [Plaintiff] never had or even claimed to have any evidence that race discrimination played a role in his termination other than his own opinion. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that [Plaintiff]’s action was both meritless and vexatious. The complete absence of evidence to support his FEHA action reflected its meritless nature, and the timing of his initiation of this action indicated that his action was intended to harass.”