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If I sue for sexual harassment and lose, do I have to pay the opposing side's attorneys' fees or costs?

Bell, CA |

If I lose a sexual harassment case in court, do I have to pay their attorneys' fees and costs?

Attorney Answers 6

  1. Unless your claim was "frivolous," as that word is defined by law, you will not have to pay the defendant's attorney's fees. You will be subject to paying the defendant's costs of suit. You will be able to challenge each cost item. Also, you may be able to negotiate a reduction or waiver of costs with the defendant, which is sometimes done by signing an agreement not to appeal.

    There are nuances and details of this, so if you are planning a lawsuit, be sure to discuss this with your attorney.

    To find a plaintiffs employment attorney in California, please go to the web site of the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA). CELA is the largest and most influential bar association in the state for attorneys who represent working people. The web site is Click on "Find a CELA Member" and you can search by location and practice area. Many CELA attorneys represent clients throughout the state.

    I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best. *** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***

  2. Under the rules of American jurisprudence, parties who lose lawsuits do not pay the winner's attorney's fees unless it is called for by the specific statute the lawsuit is based upon. We do have state and federal statutes that permit attorneys' fees to be awarded to the prevailing party in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Generally, a victim of sexual harassment who prevails in trial can be awarded their reasonable attorneys' fees. The judge decides what is reasonable based on many factors provided to the court. If the person who brought the lawsuit loses, the judge has the discretion to award attorneys' fees to the defendant, if the defendant can convince the court that the case was frivolous. In other words, the employee's case clearly had no merit and should not have been brought in the first place, or continued, once it became clear the case lacked merit. It has been the source of much debate, what it takes to show that a case was frivolous. Courts have to be careful to make such findings, because the purpose of the statute is to protect employee rights. If the employer is awarded its fees just because the employee cannot meet their burden of proof, many legitimate claims would never be brought due to the fear of owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

    Costs of suit are different. Many necessary costs are awarded to the prevailing party. These would include, court filing fees, court reporter fees, jury fees, sometimes expert witness fees and other costs. For this reason, care must be taken before decision whether to file a lawsuit.

    They say you get what you pay for, and this response is free, so take it for what it is worth. This is my opinion based on very limited information. My opinion should not be taken as legal advice. For true advice, we would require a confidential consultation where I would ask you questions and get your complete story. This is a public forum, so remember, nothing here is confidential. Nor am I your attorney. I do not know who you are and you have not hired me to provide any legal service. To do so would require us to meet and sign written retainer agreement. My responses are intended for general information only.

  3. Generally speaking, you would not be responsible for the other party's attorney's fees, unless your lawsuit was considered "frivolous" under the law - in a nutshell, this means lacking in merit and unsupported by facts and law, and other, more detailed factors defined by case law.

    A prevailing party is entitled to reimbursement of costs of litigation, so if you were to lose your case, you would be responsible for the other party's costs, after having the opportunity to contest some of the cost items claimed through a noticed motion.

    Sexual harassment cases are very fact-specific, and if you are considering making a claim or filing a lawsuit, the best course of action is to seek a confidential consultation with an employment attorney. Good luck!

    Nothing in this response is intended as a legal consultation or advice on your particular case, and is provided only as a general statement of information, and only with respect to California law. No attorney-client relationship is created and no contract for legal services is formed as a result of this posting or other postings before or after this posting. Various limitation periods, deadlines and cut-offs also may apply. You should therefore seek private consultation from an attorney regarding the merits of your case and the deadlines involved in your matter. Since this is a public forum, this posting is not confidential.

  4. I agree with all the above answers. I want to point out that depositions are among the costs that the court will award to the prevailing party. In sexual harassment cases, the costs of depositions frequently go into five figures.

  5. I have heard that some defendants will agree to waive costs if the losing employee waives the right to appeal, especially if the employer knows that it will be unable to collect on a cost bill against the employee.

    If you have a righteous case, the possibility of losing and paying costs should not be a deterrent to enforcing your civil rights. Way over 90% of cases settle, and plaintiff's statistically do better in sexual harassment cases than most other employment discrimination cases.

    A good lawyer will be able to analyze your case and give you projections -- not guarantees -- about possible upside and downside. Every case and every client is different.

    David Mallen

    David A. Mallen offers answers on Avvo for general information only. This offer of free, general answers is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. If you need specific advice regarding your legal question, you should consult an attorney confidentially. Many experienced California labor and employment attorneys, including David A. Mallen offer no-risk legal consultations to employers and employees at no charge. David A. Mallen is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, as well as the California Labor Commissioner and the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Failure to take legal action within the time periods prescribed by law could result in the loss of important legal rights and remedies.

  6. In most states you wouldn't unless the opposing party was able to prove to the court that your claim was frivolous.

    If this information has been helpful, please indicate below. I hope my information is helpful to you. If you think this post was a good answer, please click the "Good Answer" button below and/or designate my answer as the "BEST ANSWER". Thanks. This is a general response to a question for basic information and is not legal advice. Legal advice can only be given when all of the facts of your situation are discussed with a lawyer, which we have not done.. If you reside outside the State of Texas please understand that the laws may be different from the laws that I may cite in a my comment. This comment is not to be construed as legal advice to your particular situation because there are many factors that influence legal counseling- this is simply a comment. Response to an email does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the Law Offices of Kevin R. Madison, P.C., nor any of its attorneys. If you send us an e-mail, or call us, and we do not already represent you, neither your e-mail inquiry nor telephone call will create an attorney-client relationship. E-mails cannot necessarily be treated as privileged or confidential. Only entering into a written legal services contract with the Law Offices of Kevin R. Madison, P.C. will create an attorney-client relationship. There is no substitute for one-on-one legal advice and you are urged to meet with an attorney and discuss your case, personally, with an attorney in the state in which you reside or your case occurred. Thank you. Kevin R. Madison. Visit our website at and Kevin Madison, Austin, Texas- representing injured persons in motor vehicle collision, truck and motorcucle accidents and representing victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse, physical assaults, and representing victims of sexual exploitation committed by doctors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, clergy, counselors, priests, and rabbis. Visit our sexual harassment/sexual exploitation blog at

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