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Trucking company settles over gender bias training

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A Missouri trucking firm has agreed to pay $2.8 million in lost wages and damages to 63 women who were denied job opportunities at the firm because of a now-discarded same-sex training policy, said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in a statement issued Tuesday.

The company, Springfield, Missouri-based New Prime Trucking Inc., defended the policy in a statement.

The EEOC said in its statement that Springfield, Missouri-based New Prime Trucking Inc. had agreed to pay the settlement in April. The $2.8 million was in addition to $250,000 it had previously agreed to pay to the initial plaintiff in the case, Deanna Roberts Clouse. It had filed suit based on her discrimination charge in 2011.

The EEOC said that in 2004, Prime had introduced a same-sex trainer policy, and because it had very few female trainers, this forced female trainees to wait extended periods of time, sometimes up to 18 months, for a female trainer to become available, while male applicants were promptly assigned to male trainers.

The agency said New Prime stopped using its same-sex trainer policy in 2013 as a result of the agency's lawsuit.

In the most recent development, in a May 27 ruling, the U.S. District Court in Springfield permanently enjoined Prime from discriminating against applicants or employees on the basis of sex, and ordered that it not implement a same-sex trainer policy, the EEOC said. “The court's order will ensure the company does not adopt a same-sex trainer policy again,” said the EEOC.

Andrea G. Baran, regional attorney of EEOC's St. Louis District, said in the statement, “When women break into male-dominated fields, they are often trained by men. We should not expect that these women will be sexually harassed. It is disrespectful to men everywhere to assume that they will harass women if they work together in close quarters. Rather, employers have a responsibility to adopt strict anti-harassment policies and practices and enforce them so that all employees — regardless of sex — can work and succeed together.”

Brooke Moseley, Prime's training specialist and female driver liaison, said in a statement that the firm had implemented the same-gender training policy for its trainees' safety and privacy.

“The over-the-road trucking industry is not like any other industry when it comes to training drivers,” said Ms. Mosley. “Before implementing the policy Prime considered factors unique to the trucking industry and to the circumstances of trainers and trainees in an over-the-road training environment, such as being on the road for weeks at time, hundreds or even over a thousand miles from Prime's headquarters; spending extended periods of time in the confined space of a truck cab; living on the truck; changing clothes on the truck; sleeping on the truck; and, in some instances, using portable toilets on the truck. Prime also considered that trainees might perceive that they were in a subservient role to their trainers.”

The company said also Prime's record in hiring female truck drivers far exceeds the industry average, and over the past five years females have made up more than 10% of its driving working force.

The District Court had initially ruled in 2014 that Prime violated federal law by discriminating against female truck driver applicants when it required they be trained only by other women.