A sexual harassment trial against CRST Expedited of Cedar Rapids and one of its trainers ended after 24 days last week with a verdict of $1.5 million for a former driver trainee.
Karen Shank was a 45-year-old trainee driver working out of CRST’s California terminal in 2005 when she went out on the road with trainer John Wilson to learn the fine points of over-the-road driving in a 28-day training period.
Shank quit CRST Expedited (then known as CRST Van Expedited) after completing the 28-day training period and being assigned to work with another male driver. She complained in the lawsuit that CRST allowed a hostile work environment by failing to prevent Wilson’s unwanted touching and sexual comments. She filed suit in 2006, and the case finally wound up before a California jury in San Bernardino District Court in March.
The jury ordered $1.17 million in punitive damages — three times the actual damages of $391,328 — after finding the company and its trainer’s behavior to be malicious, or with a conscious disregard for Shank’s rights. The punitive damages are allowed under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, according to Elizabeth Riles, the Oakland, Calif.-based attorney for Shank.
CRST plans to appeal the verdict, said Dave Rusch, CEO of CRST International, the parent company of CRST Expedited, also named in the lawsuit.
“We’re very disappointed in the jury’s findings and have a lot of grounds for appeal,” Rusch said.
Riles said Shank went into the trucking business knowing it would not be easy to work in a male-dominated industry.
“What we said to the jurors was, “It’s not like our client expected to go there and have tea. She knew what she was getting into, but then you cross a line.”
Riles said Shank quit one day after getting a regular driving assignment with a male CRST driver because she was emotionally distraught. She is now in college to prepare for a different occupation.
The lawsuit is the latest in a string of cases filed against CRST alleging failure to protect women truck drivers from harassment by male trainers and other drivers. The company won a victory in a class-action lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year when a judge dismissed the case based on the legal procedures used by the EEOC.
Just last month, however, the company faced another lawsuit from an Oklahoma couple who wanted to work as tandem team drivers for CRST.
On a Red Hat and Leo Runearth claimed the company allowed a racially hostile work environment and retaliated when they complained that a male driver trainer who worked with Red Hat touched her inappropriately and used racial slurs for Mexican Americans.
After they complained, Red Hat and Runearth claimed that they received bad driving assignments and no longer received good dispatch assistance when they ran into trouble, causing them to drive off-route and incur extra mileage costs that they had to pay.CRST has not yet filed an answer to the claims of Red Hat and Runearth.