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PARKER v. MATTHEWS

April 1, 1976

DOROTHY C. PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
F. DAVID MATTHEWS, Secretary, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

 OF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE CHARLES R. RICHEY

 This case is before the Court on plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). This Court finds that plaintiff is entitled to an award of reasonable attorneys' fees for the reasons set forth below.

 I. BACKGROUND

 On February 15, 1973, plaintiff, Dorothy Parker, filed an administrative complaint with the Office of Education of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), alleging discrimination due to her race and sex and seeking an immediate promotion from her position as a GS-9. An investigation was conducted and, on September 7, 1973, the investigative report concluded that the plaintiff had been discriminated against and recommended that plaintiff be promoted to a GS-13. In the spring of 1974, HEW implemented part of the investigative report by promoting plaintiff to a GS-11 with assurances that she would soon be promoted to a GS-14 as the original investigative report had recommended. In the spring of 1975, HEW issued its final determination: that it would disregard the investigative report as well as the recommendation of the Office of Education's Equal Employment Opportunity Staff Officer. Thereafter, plaintiff filed the instant law suit.

 In defendant's answer filed July 22, 1975, all allegations of the complaint were denied. Less than two months later, on September 18, 1975, HEW issued a formal decision to the effect that plaintiff had been discriminated against on the basis of race and sex, and that she should be retroactively promoted to GS-13, with appropriate back pay.

 On November 14, 1975, this Court entered an order approving the settlement of the instant litigation, which reserved the question of attorneys' fees for judicial decision.

 II. THE COURT FINDS THAT PLAINTIFF, WHO HAS ENTERED INTO A SETTLEMENT OF HER TITLE VII CLAIM, IS A "PREVAILING PARTY" WITHIN THE MEANING OF THAT TERM AS USED IN 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k), AND IS THEREFORE ENTITLED TO REASONABLE ATTORNEYS' FEES AND EXPENSES.

 Plaintiff, who has entered into a settlement as to her Title VII claim, seeks attorneys' fees as a "prevailing party" in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). Defendant, while having agreed to the settlement, asserts that plaintiff is not the prevailing party, since the case was disposed of by settlement rather than by a judgment after a full adjudication on the merits. In view of defendant's argument, the question presented is whether a plaintiff who enters into a settlement may still be a "prevailing party" within the meaning of that term as used in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k).

 Section 2000e-5(k) limits the award of attorneys' fees to a "prevailing party":

 
"In any action or proceeding under this subchapter the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the Commission or the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs, and the Commission and the United States shall be liable for costs the same as a private party."

 There is, however, no definition of "prevailing party" in the statute, nor is there an explanation of the term in the legislative history of the Act. See 2 U.S. Cong. & Adm. News 2355 (1965). The Court must, therefore, look to the plain meaning of the language of the statute.

 The defendant maintains that the plain meaning of "prevailing party" clearly subsumes the concept of a favorable judicial determination of the merits of the action. Under defendant's view, attorneys' fees could not be awarded where a settlement resolves the litigation. This Court does not agree that the plain meaning of "prevailing party" is limited to plaintiffs who have obtained a favorable judgment after a full adjudication of the merits.

 If the Court were to adopt defendant's suggested meaning plaintiffs would be forced to try every case for the purpose of insuring an award of attorneys' fees. This result makes defendant's assertion untenable, since any suggested interpretation of the language of the statute which would lead to an absurd or futile result, or which would not further or be consonant with the purpose of the act, must be rejected. United States v. American Trucking Associations, Inc., 310 U.S. 534, 543, 84 L. Ed. 1345, 60 S. Ct. 1059 (1940); Organized Migrants in Community Action, Inc., v. Brennan, 172 U.S. App. D.C. ...


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