A Springfield, Mo.-based trucking company has reached a consent agreement to pay out more than $3 million to a group of women who lost out on job opportunities due to the company’s hiring and training policies.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission instituted a civil action against New Prime Inc., one of the nation’s largest refrigerated carriers, on behalf of more than 60 women who were victims of the company’s unlawful discriminatory hiring policy.
The payments follow an earlier court order finding that the company violated federal law by discriminating against female truck driver applicants by requiring them to be trained only by female trainers.
The discrimination claim is based on the company’s Prime Student Driver School, which was designed to assist with recruitment and training of new drivers. Students at the school are made up of individuals looking to earn their CDLs, or those who may have a CDL but do not have the required experience – between 50,000 and 60,000 miles with a trainer – to be eligible to drive solo.
As a result of the 2003 sexual harassment suit, Prime implemented a “same-sex trainer policy” in 2004, requiring all applicants who do not meet Prime’s experience requirements to receive over-the-road training by a trainer who is the same gender as the applicant unless there is some pre-existing relationship between the female applicant and male trainer. Court records show that as of March 2012, the company had fewer than five female trainers. The company employs more than 2,000 people total and provides reefer, tanker, and flatbed delivery services throughout North America.
In August 2014, a federal court in Missouri rejected all of Prime’s motions and ruled that the company’s policy violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it discriminated against women.
According to the initial complaint filed by the EEOC on behalf of Deanna Roberts Clouse and an at that time unknown amount of other women, Prime’s policy was to force female applicants to be put on a waiting list for female trainers, unless the female applicant could produce a male trainer with whom she had a prior relationship, such as through marriage or family. There was no such waiting list for male trainees.
Clouse filed a discrimination charge with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in 2009, after she applied for enrolment with Prime’s driver training program. She was awarded $250,000 as part of the suit.
The lack of female trainers coupled with the same-sex training policy forced female trainees to wait extended periods of time, sometimes up to 18 months, for a female trainer to become available, which resulted in most female driver trainees being denied employment. Meanwhile male applicants were promptly assigned to male trainers. Prime ceased using its same-sex trainer policy in 2013 as a result of the agency’s suit.
According to a news release from the EEOC, Prime agreed via consent decree to pay more than $2.8 million in lost wages and damages for 63 other women who were denied job opportunities. EEOC was unable to determine the precise number or identities of all women affected by Prime’s unlawful policy because, as the court found, Prime failed to “preserve the lists [of women who were put on waiting lists] and cooperate in identifying women impacted by the policy …”
The release also notes that on May 27, the court permanently enjoined Prime from discriminating against applicants or employees on the basis of sex and ordered that Prime shall not implement a same-sex trainer policy or practice that creates barriers to the entry or advancement of female driver applicants or employees. The agency says the court’s order will ensure the company does not adopt a same-sex trainer policy again. The court also ordered Prime to give priority hiring consideration to the class members and make them immediately eligible for benefits without a waiting period.