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Ex-CRST truckers appeal rulings in sexual harassment lawsuit

Female drivers seeking class-action status for complaints

A CRST Expedited truck is shown in 2013. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
A CRST Expedited truck is shown in 2013. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Allegations that CRST Expedited fomented a hostile work environment for female truck drivers and retaliated against those who reported sexual assault or harassment are continuing to wind their way through the federal court system.

Three former drivers on Monday filed notice they plan to appeal judgments favoring the Cedar Rapids-based trucking company to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in St. Louis.

Chief Judge Leonard T. Strand in Iowa’s Northern District in January decertified the case as a class-action lawsuit, describing the women’s experiences driving with male co-workers as “isolated and sporadic,” even if the complaints appeared “severe and pervasive” when viewed together.

More recently, in July, Strand dismissed the three plaintiffs’ individual claims, saying that, though the behavior they experienced could reasonably be deemed “intolerable,” they did not prove CRST deliberately created those working conditions.

The judge noted there was no evidence CRST had received earlier complaints about any of the alleged assailants and that none of the plaintiffs said they were re-victimized by the same individuals after making reports to the company.

The female former CRST drivers, who filed the lawsuit in May 2015, are deliberating whether to ask an 8th Circuit appellate judge to reverse Strand’s rulings, according to Joshua Friedman, their lead attorney.

“Plaintiffs, in appealing this ruling, will be asking the Eighth Circuit to recognize that where, as in this case, an employer knows from experience it will receive about one hundred complaints of sexual harassment a year, it cannot refuse to try common sense solutions, such as putting cameras in truck cabs, and the failure to do so is a breach of its duty of care to the victims,” he said in a Thursday email.

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CRST received a “steady stream” of about 100 complaints per year from female drivers during the class-action period, from October 2013 through March 2017, including “groping, demands for sexual favors in return for receiving a pass from a trainer, explicit sexual language, watching porn and many complaints of sexual assault, including rape,” Friedman said.

Court records document 14 episodes of assault or harassment the three plaintiffs said they experienced while paired with different male drivers during their work with CRST between October 2013 and January 2015.

One woman said she was held at knifepoint after rebuffing a male driver’s suggestion that he tie her up and “do things.” Another said she and her belongings were forced out of a truck after she declined a driver’s repeated sexual advances.

CRST’s policy following the complaints was to remove the female drivers from their trucks, partner them with new co-drivers and restrict the problematic male drivers to pairings with other men, the court documents show.

An attorney representing CRST declined to comment on the appeal because it is a matter of ongoing litigation.

CRST previously was named in a 2007 sexual harassment complaint brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of 270 women.

All of the claims except one, which CRST settled for $50,000, ultimately were thrown out, as a federal appeals court decided the EEOC erroneously filed the lawsuit before identifying and investigating claims for all the affected workers.

• Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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