Trucker Harassment Class-Action Suit Backfires

CRST trucking sexual assault lawsuitBy Ryan J. Foley

They were learning to become truck drivers but wound up in a nightmare. In detailed accounts to a federal agency, dozens of female employees of one of the nation's largest trucking companies told of being propositioned, groped and even assaulted by male drivers during cross-country training rides.

"I was beaten, I was fondled, I was humiliated and I was taught nothing," one trainee, Ramona Villareal, said in a deposition.

But rather than leading to a workplace discrimination judgment, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's sexual harassment lawsuit against Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based CRST Van Expedited Inc., has backfired and put the agency on trial. The agency is coping with a court ruling that could make it harder and more expensive to pursue large discrimination cases against companies in the Midwest, if not nationwide.

And dozens of women who described an ordeal of unwanted and aggressive sexual conduct may receive no compensation for lost wages or emotional distress because of judicial criticism of the agency's investigation.

A February ruling in the case sets a new standard for workplace class-action lawsuits in the federal court district that includes Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas. Before filing a lawsuit on behalf of employees alleging similar discrimination, the agency will first have to investigate the merits of every worker's claim and attempt to reach settlements. If the agency doesn't, EEOC risks having the case dismissed.

The agency has argued that such a standard is impractical in cases involving hundreds or thousands of potential victims. At a minimum, the agency says, investigations would take longer and delay relief compared to other regions, where class-action cases can be filed with a lower standard. EEOC has a deadline next week to determine whether to appeal.

"We are an agency with limited resources already, and this is something that, if it stands, would make it even more challenging for us to address and vindicate discriminatory violations in the 8th Circuit," EEOC general counsel P. David Lopez told The Associated Press.

But businesses say the ruling could stop unfair legal tactics and prevent unnecessary and expensive litigation.

"It's incredibly significant," said Chicago lawyer Gerald Maatman Jr., who represents companies sued by the EEOC. "It is a signal by the federal courts that the tactics the EEOC has been using over the last several years may be improper."

The ruling came as the agency has made systemic discrimination cases -- those involving many employees -- a larger enforcement priority. EEOC investigates 100,000 complaints of workplace discrimination annually, and recovered more than $450 million for employees last year.

The agency's tactics have rattled the business community, which says lawsuits can cost millions of dollars and destroy reputations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the CRST case denouncing EEOC's tactics and calling for the agency to be more cooperative with industry.

The trucking company case was prompted by a December 2005 complaint from driver Monika Starke, of Azle, Texas, who alleged she was paired with a driver who constantly made crude sexual remarks and advances. After she escaped his truck, she said, she was paired with another driver who demanded sex in exchange for a passing grade. After failing to reach a settlement for Starke, EEOC filed a lawsuit in 2007 on behalf of all female drivers subjected to "a sexually hostile and offensive work environment." After the company sent letters to thousands of female employees, about 150 gave depositions in which they described being alone for weeks in trucks with male drivers.

One woman said her trainer asked for oral sex every morning and told her if she slept with him she'd certainly pass. Another testified that her trainer put on pornographic movies daily and told her he wanted her to perform similar acts. "And he never let me go a day without telling me that he controlled me passing or failing," Yvonne Fortner testified.

But some of their claims were barred for a variety of legal reasons. And EEOC's tactics infuriated Judge Linda Reade, who said the agency used "a 'sue first, ask questions later' litigation strategy." She dismissed the case and ordered the agency to pay CRST an unprecedented $4.4 million in attorney's fees, acknowledging "dozens of potentially meritorious sexual harassment claims may now never see the inside of a courtroom."

The appeals court largely sided with her in a 2-1 ruling, but threw out the fee award and reinstated two claims: Starke's and one filed by a woman who said her trainer repeatedly entered the cab wearing only his underwear. The court ruled that EEOC should have done more investigation and informal mediation before filing suit.

CRST is expected to renew its request for compensation for legal fees. The company said it took disciplinary action such as banning offenders from riding with females.

"We think it was a very favorable decision," said CRST General Counsel Eric Baker. "We certainly believe in all instances we took those matters seriously. We do believe that we will be exonerated."

But one case that reached a jury -- a California woman who opted out of the EEOC process and filed her own lawsuit -- resulted in a $1.5 million verdict against the company.

"It's a tragedy what happened," said Cedar Rapids attorney Matt Reilly, who has represented women in the case. "The sad thing about this is, the merits haven't been an issue for so long. The appeal was about technicalities."

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CRST = Garbage company. If youve been in and around trucking long enough you know the companies to stay away from , CRST is one of them.

February 14 2013 at 1:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good ol CRST....
There are some driver trainers out there and with this company that will, and have pulled this stunt many times. And make a bad name for the company, and the good driver trainers out there.
CRST was known for alot of trainers doing this to female students.. But i always said, if you have a problem get off the truck, make the phone call, and move on. If it got really bad, get off the truck, dial 911 you have the trk numbers, you have the drivers name, and let the authorities handle the situation.
But also the game was always played both ways. Female students would claim harassment if they weren't catered too also.
CRST, SWIFT, SCHNEIDER,WERNER to name a few are basicly trucking mills.. you have drivers that stay, and drivers that go.. they all have a 400 to 500% turn over rate. They all have some idiots as trainers, but you gotta learn how and when to play the game..
I guess my question would be, if they were going through this on a dailey basis, why did they stay on the trk. and why didn't they dial 911 and report it to the proper authorities.
For anyone that thinks there going to sue a trk company, good luck. when it comes to this, trk. companies have very deep pockets and your chances are slim to slimmer unless you really have your ducks in a row...
Its a hard living, and not for everyone, and its defenetly not your local choclate factory. So whether your female or male, think before you leap!!!!

April 04 2012 at 11:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

sounds like a judge is courtin with the 1%ers

April 04 2012 at 11:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

IM sorry i am a female driver, I was also a trainer and I dont believe half of these claims.. ppl today want the easy road.. and sexual misconduct dont happen like it used to.. and women man up. your in a field where you will get it from every one out on the road, you going to take everyone to court????

April 04 2012 at 10:22 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Hooray for justice! Let the lawyers eat cake.

April 04 2012 at 9:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The EEOC is another one of the governments useless organizations. When I called them because I had been descriminated aginst because of my age, I was told that it would be very expensive to fight and that finding a lawyer to represent me was going to be impossible. The person that I talked to did his best to talk me out of perssueing the matter. On my request, he mailed me some forms that could be filled out and returned for EEOC review and if they decided I had a case they would basically give me permission to move forrward with it.

April 04 2012 at 8:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to salgrobert's comment

What is it that made them useless. They appear to have listened and offered realistic advise. They provided you with a packet that would provide you the opportunity for further review. Were they supposed to do something more for you?

April 04 2012 at 11:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

so what kind of free krap were you after ?

April 04 2012 at 11:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great Article. That will keep the false claims from coming in. If one or two of them were offended, if that actually even happennded, they should have just left. Its a free country. Maybe now we will be free of the blood ******* class actioners.

April 04 2012 at 8:09 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply

Unfortunately it means that there will be more work for the legal system as people will now have to file civil suits in order to get their say against companies that allow the activity to continue. It also means that it could potentially cost the companies more money. The EEOC has now lost their credibility in providing protection under the civil liberties act. Sad.

April 04 2012 at 7:13 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Some people just have to say something even if they don't have a clue what they are talking about. I am a female truck driver and although I have never worked for CRST I did enter a similar training program with another company. I can't speak for the training program at CRST however the company that hired me had strict policies on sexual harassment. I was required to speak weekly via telephone with a training coordinator at the home terminal and if I had a problem I could speak with someone at any time 24/7. I didn't have any problems with my male trainers although it is difficult sharing an 8 x 6 box and we had to be extremely aware of each other and allowance had to be made. Had there ever been a problem all I had to do was pick up the phone and the company would have arranged transportation for me from anywhere in the country to the nearest terminal for a new trainer. The problem is that there are not a lot of female over the road truckers and many of the ones with experience enough to train are either teaming or don't want to train. I met my husband on the road and for the last 12 years we've been teaming. Some women can be too sensitive but if even half the stuff these ladies claim actually went on then they had a real problem. The thing is "why did they let it continue?" All they had to do was walk away, call the company and demand another trainer.

April 04 2012 at 6:19 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Carol's comment

I agree.. I was a trainer.. but after getting some real winners ( sarcastic) I gave it up I value my life :)

April 04 2012 at 10:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

So you've been on the road for 12 years with your husband. You training was way back before that. Things have changed.

April 05 2012 at 12:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

truck drivers and women don't seem to mix right. it's all about women trying to be manly. let's go to wrestling, are women going to want to wrestle in Japan. nex story.

April 04 2012 at 5:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to walstafco's comment

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