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Female trucker’s hostile work environment, retaliation charges reinstated

Female trucker’s hostile work environment, retaliation charges reinstated

A federal appeals court has reinstated hostile work environment and retaliation charges filed in a putative class action lawsuit filed by a female truck driver.

Robin Anderson, a truck driver for Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based CRST International Inc., was paired as part of a two-driver team with fellow truck driver Eric Vegtel in December 2012, according to court papers in the March 24 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Robin Anderson v. CRST International Inc. et al.

From then until January 2013, Ms. Anderson charged, she was harassed by Mr. Vegtel, including being subjected to inappropriate sexually charged remarks, innuendos and gestures.

This culminated in an incident on Dec. 31, 2012, when their truck broke down and she was allegedly forced by CRST to share a hotel room with Mr. Vegtel. 

 Ms. Anderson said the 400-pound man, who claimed to have a black belt in karate, approached her while he was completely nude and sat on her bed, according to the complaint. 

After she complained about the situation, the company allegedly did not investigate her complaint and refused to assign her any more loads, while Mr. Vegtel was never reprimanded. She was then terminated by CRST, according to court papers.

Ms. Anderson filed a putative class action suit in U.S. District Court in Pasadena, California, on charges including a hostile work environment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 The District Court granted CRST summary judgment dismissing the case in 2014. The 9th Circuit reinstated the hostile work environment and retaliation charges in its 2-1 ruling.

In reinstating the hostile work environment claim, the majority opinion says Ms. Anderson “presents evidence that CRST never actually investigated her complaint and never informed Vegtel of the fact he was prohibited from driving with female truck drivers in the future.” 

 It also allegedly did not reassign her to a new truck or new routes after she and Mr. Vegtel separated, said the ruling.

“We have held that an employer’s remedy is not effective even though it stops harassment if the remedy targets the victim and puts her in a worse position,” said the ruling. “On these facts, a jury could conclude that CRST’s remedy put Anderson in a worse positon and was thus not effective,” the ruling said.

In reinstating the retaliation claim, the majority opinion said: “Although CRST argues that Anderson failed to report to work, Anderson insists that after hearing her complaint she never received any work assignments, and there is no evidence that she was obligated to find her own route assignments from CRST.

“If Anderson did not abandon her job, then CRST has failed to proffer a non-retaliatory reason for her termination,” said the ruling, in remanding the case for further proceedings.

The dissenting opinion states the majority opinion “is not supported by evidence on the record and fails to follow the teaching of the United States Supreme Court in relevant cases.”

 In 2007, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged CRST with sexual discrimination and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII in connection with its training of 270 women.

That eventually led to a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held a defendant in an EEOC case did not need to win a case based on its merits to be considered the “prevailing” party in the case and be awarded attorneys fees. 


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