Trucker harassment class-action suit backfires

By Ryan J. Foley

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 4 2012 6:25 a.m. MDT

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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