Skip to comments.Class-action sex harassment suit against trucking company backfires
Posted on 04/05/2012 12:51:05 PM PDT by SmithL
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- 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 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.
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.
| Judge Linda R. Reade was appointed as a Judge for the United States District Court, Northern District of Iowa, by President George W. Bush. Her commission was signed by the President on November 26, 2002. She became the Chief Judge of the Northern District of Iowa on January 1, 2007.
Judge Reade was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She graduated with Honors and Order of the Coif from Drake University Law School, Des Moines, Iowa in 1980. She received a masters degree in Higher Education Administration from Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, in 1973; and an undergraduate degree in biology from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1970.
From 1980 to 1986, Judge Reade was in the private practice of law handling civil and criminal matters in state and federal courts.
In 1986, Judge Reade began serving as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. She served as an Assistant United States Attorney from 1986 - 1993, and as Chief of the Criminal Division of that office from 1990 to 1993.
In 1993, Judge Reade was appointed a judge of the Iowa District Court, a court of general jurisdiction. She served in that court until appointed to the federal bench.
Agree. Then again what the heck and why would they not suspect something like this is a likely result of being in this situation. Hard to work around the idiot factor.
Also looks like nobama’s agencies are having numerous slap-downs by the Fed Courts. Which is a damn good thing and about high time.
While I formly reject such behavior by anyone (re: sexual harrassment etc), it is good to see that “due process” menas the same for both plaintiff and respondent. It is called the rule of law.
Maybe there is hope for the US after all, one case and one judge at a time.
Rogue EPA, EEOC, TSA, DOJ, DOT, ATFE agencies/officers etc need to be aware that there are consequences to violations of due process....
Don’t Tread on Me!
Take that Obama-Pelois’s Lilly-Ledbetter (Lilly Bed-Wetter) ‘sue for 50 year old accusions’ Act!
So, an average EEOC complaint results in $4,500 per claim. No need to investigate, no need for evidence - apparently there is no 'time' to do that. Just give each and every complaintant $4,500.
Golly, I sure don't see any way someone could abuse THAT system at all ... < /s>
“Just give each and every complaintant $4,500.”
Why would anyone in this field hire a female? Are there not enough males? This is just one potential risk any employer takes when hiring a female; the undue burden placed on companies (Family Leave Act, for example) make it simply a bad decision. Of course, more mature women can offer a lot without some of those risks.
This is the minimum bar for coming before the court in the first place! You have to show the court that you have exhausted all other remedies, or the court will just tell you to go pound sand. That the EEOC legal team would try to take this case to court WITHOUT having first exhausted all other remedies really tells a powerful tale of their own reprehensible arrogance.
We are an agency with limited resources already,
Yeah and the companies you bully have even fewer resources. Which is what you count on.
The stories sound fabricated on the surface...beaten? raped? and No POLICE reports in this victims always right culture?
>>If Sexual Harassment is as common as they say, obtaining some actual EVIDENCE should be really easy.
Especially so since cell phones with a voice recorder function are pretty ubiquitous these days. I use mine all the time.
Class action lawsuits have become nothing but bullying for dollars.
This ruling is a good thing.
Those women who were mistreated can still sue individually
That would leave out millions and millions for the lawyers.
Exactly. These were criminal acts, but I guess crime victims don't get enough "remedy"
It truely depends on the women. I’ve seen some good women drivers, most hauling material but some hauling water. I’m talking about the Bakken field and the drivers that are on it.
The tiniest women I ever saw piled out of a “Pete” conventional to ask me if the truck stop we were at had a shower. She was a blond girl with a good figure. On the foot peddals of the truck there were blocks of wood wired to them so she could apply the brakes and clutch when needed.
She was like 5 foot nothing and beautiful
I’m not questioning their ability; they are just a lawsuit waiting to happen. Too often I’ve seen someone’s race and/or gender used by Human Resources as a reason not to act (and they’d be frank about it); why would anyone put themselves in this position deliberately?
You make a very legitimate point. What motivation is there for an employer to hire a woman? She can, at any time, decide to become a mother, take FMLA leave for 6 months - and by law, is required to return to the SAME job she had, at the same rate. She may opt to quit the workforce to raise kids and be a stay-at-home mother; then if and when she returns, she will demand pay commiserate with workers who remained at work during those years. The more Gov't "helps" women, the more incentive employers have to simply hire men for the same job.
Those women who were mistreated can still sue individuallyI'm not sure about that. I don't think the company can be sued again for the same claims. Of course, if the company culture encourages such misbehavior, I'm certain there will be more claims coming.
Perhaps the company should have anticipated these problems and wired every truck — I think legally any employer can surveil the workplace. Just knowing they were under surveillance would probably have put these “training” drivers on their best behavior.
“The more Gov’t “helps” women, the more incentive employers have to simply hire men for the same job.”
Also, as large corporations simply become quasi-government agencies with their social policies, etc. tied to government contracts, smaller firms often have few enough employees to avoid many regulations, allowing them to hire the best employees without regard for token representation and such.
this is really about shutting down the class action collective suits the government uses for shock and awe. Claims SHOULD be investigated INDIVIDUALLY.
Individual claims prevent “consent decrees” where a company submits to the jurisdiction of the unelected pencil pushers.
the premise of class actions is that ONE anecdote means ALL are similarly situated. What if it turns out this woman is lying? does that mean a class action case exists because “all men are pigs” doctrine?