Alleging that Prime Inc. put female truck drivers in harm’s way, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit this week against the carrier, alleging Prime did not take adequate steps to prevent sexual harassment of a female truck driver.
According to the suit, EEOC tried to reach a pre-litigation resolution through a conciliation process, but those efforts failed. EEOC claims that independent contractor Eric Weekley, who served as a driver trainer for the company, sexually harassed “at least one female driver trainee” which caused Prime to stop using him as a trainer. However, he was allowed to continue driving for the company and Prime allowed him to have female co-drivers, the suit alleges.
“When Weekley asked Melinda Huerta, a new Prime driver, to work as his co-driver, Prime allowed the match but did not warn Huerta about Weekley's past misconduct or warn Weekley that he must not harass Huerta while she worked as his co-driver,” EEOC said in a release. “The EEOC alleges that during the six weeks Weekley and Huerta drove together, Weekley continually talked about sex in graphic and violent terms and told Huerta she would lose her job and commercial driver’s license if she reported his behavior.”
A spokesperson for Prime Inc. declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. The suit against the Springfield, MO-based carrier was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Missouri.
“Every employer has an obligation to take adequate steps to prevent sexual harassment in their workplace, whether that workplace is an office, a kitchen, or on a truck,” said Andrea G. Baran, regional attorney for the EEOC's St. Louis District. “When employers fail to take those steps, they fail all their workers and enable a cycle of abuse and sexual harassment to continue.”
The EEOC’s suit seeks monetary and injunctive relief for Huerta as well as injunctive relief to prevent future harassment of Prime employees.
This is not the first run-in Prime Inc. has had with the EEOC. In 2016, the carrier settled a case with EEOC for $3.1 million and was forced to make job offers to women who alleged they were victims of the company’s discriminatory hiring policy, the EEOC said. The settlement followed a court order that found the company violated “federal law by discriminating against female truck driver applicants when it required that they be trained only by female trainers,” EEOC said in a release at the time.
The case found that Prime violated Title VII when it utilized a “same-sex trainer policy,” which was adopted in 2004 after a previous EEOC lawsuit regarding sexual harassment of a driver trainee. The 2016 settlement stemmed from a complaint filed by Deanna Roberts Clouse. That complaint alleged that because Prime had few female trainees, and the same-sex trainer policy in effect, female driver trainees were being denied employment opportunities or forced to wait up to 18 months for an opportunity while male trainees were quickly assigned to a driver trainer.
Prime agreed to pay $250,000 to Clouse to resolve her claims, EEOC said, and then the company agreed via consent decree in 2016 to pay over $2.8 million in lost wages and damages for 63 other women who were denied job opportunities.
The latest Prime Inc. suit was one of seven EEOC filed this past week around harassment and followed a meeting on Monday, June 11, of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.
“Our challenge is to use this #MeToo moment well,” said Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum. “We have a road map given the work we have done at the EEOC. We have the attention and commitment of the range of different actors in society that we need. Together, we can channel that energy to create significant and sustainable change."
The other companies sued this week, none of which are in the transportation industry, include Master Marine; Real Time Staffing Services, Inc., doing business as Select Staffing in Albuquerque, NM; G2 Corporation, doing business as Screen Tight; Sierra Creative Systems; Tapioca Express; and Total Maintenance Solutions.
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