By Chase Castle
CRST Expedited, a long-haul trucking company headquartered in Cedar Rapids, is facing allegations that employees repeatedly ignored complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and retaliated against women who reported those actions, according to a complaint filed in federal court in late May.
The class action filed in U.S. District Court in California names three plaintiffs, Cathy Sellars, Claudia Lopez and Leslie Fortune, who said female truck drivers with CRST Expedited were subject to sexual discrimination and retaliation on the basis of their sex.
Giselle Schuetz, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the complaint details a pervasive practice of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which was also the subject of a previous suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) against CRST Expedited in 2007.
“The named plaintiffs have personally experienced [sexual harassment and sexual assault] to the point where a couple of them took to carrying weapons to take care of themselves … because they were being ignored when they repeatedly complained about the harassment to the company,” Ms. Schuetz said.
CRST Expedited, a subsidiary of CRST International, has driver terminals in Riverside, Calif. as well as Oklahoma City and Carlisle, Penn., in addition to its Iowa headquarters.
The plaintiffs in the class action suit represent a group of current and former female long-haul drivers, including Claudia Lopez, a New Jersey resident who was employed as a truck driver by CRST last summer through January. Missouri resident Leslie Fortune, who also was employed as a driver with the company, worked from fall 2013 through January. Ms. Fortune attended training classes in Cedar Rapids, which has offices and living accommodations for trainers, drivers and trainees.
Among the allegations in the 74-page complaint are accounts from female employees who said they were coerced to complete job training, despite being victim to sexual assault, in order to avoid thousands of dollars in training fees that normally are waived once the training and an eight-month contract are completed.
“When female drivers refuse to have sex with them, male drivers retaliate, including but not limited to by kidnapping them, kicking them off shared trucks, making false reports of misconduct, threatening them with weapons, beating them or threatening beatings, spreading rumors they are prostitutes, preventing them from contacting CRST for assistance, and refusing to assist them with work-related tasks,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs in the case are seeking back pay, front pay, compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs to redress the alleged discriminatory policies and practices.
While the exact number of employees who would be affected by a ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor won’t be known until the discovery phase, which is likely months away, Ms. Schuetz estimated 100 or more current or former employees could be compensated.
The EEOC suit against CRST Van Expedited, filed in 2007, first alleged a pattern of sexual harassment and sexual assaults by male co-drivers and trainers against 67 employees, with alleged abuses dating back to 1999. According to the complaint filed last month, the case was dismissed when a U.S. appellate court held that the EEOC failed to meet a statutory obligation to conciliate with CRST outside court before filing suit.
David Rusch, president and CEO of CRST International, described the new complaint as a repackaging of previous allegations.
“We’re obviously shocked, surprised and saddened to think that a plaintiff’s attorney would be that unscrupulous … to file a lawsuit on [top of] the same lawsuit that was filed back in 2007, which has been run through the federal court system, and we obviously were victorious in that case,” Mr. Rusch said in a phone interview. “So again, we’ll fight it vigorously. It’s raising an issue that was already brought up in court.”
“We assume that we’re going to get this kicked out on summary judgment,” he added.
Ms. Schuetz refuted the claim that the suit effectively recycles the 2007 case because of new allegations that post-date the original case, which is recounted in part in the new complaint in an effort to establish a “pattern or practice” of negligence by CRST. She also said the previous case was dismissed due to different legal standards for a law enforcement agency as opposed to private individuals, who are the plaintiffs in the new case.
“So in that sense, yes, it’s a fairly similar type of claim, but that said, the decisions relating to the EEOC case were based on a specific factual record that was created in that case,” Ms. Schuetz said. The previous court, for example, excluded affidavits from alleged victims that the EEOC failed to submit by deadline, she said.
“So in that sense, this has nothing to do with that case anymore. It’s the same kind of claim, but there’s a completely different factual record here.”