Under the federal civil rights statutes, plaintiffs who prevail ordinarily receive an award of attorneys’ fees that must be paid by the defendant. But, in order not to deter plaintiffs from filing such claims, the reverse is not true. Indeed, only in rare cases do courts award prevailing defendants their fees: an award is appropriate only where a plaintiff’s claim is frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation. The Seventh Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Rovner, recently came across just such a case.
In Bluestein v. Central Wisconsin Anesthesiology, Nos. 13-1374, 14-1256 & 14-1257 (7th Cir. Oct. 15, 2014), the plaintiff was a practicing anesthesiologist who, along with 15 other physicians, was a shareholder of Central Wisconsin Anesthesiology. She alleged that she was fired from her position because of a disability and filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But the ADA, like other Civil Rights Statutes, protects employees, not employers. Because Bluestein had a vote on all major decisions (including the vote to terminate her from the practice), she was not an employee of Central Wisconsin, but rather an owner-employer.