The U.S. trucking industry is a paradox. With a growing shortage of drivers, trucking companies desperately need to put more people behind the wheel. At the same time, an increasing number of women are looking to enter the industry, eager for the opportunity. Instead of being welcomed, however, many encounter a hostile work environment, including egregious sexual harassment.
Trucking Industry Background
According to data from the American Trucking Associations(ATA):
- Trucking companies account for 81 percent of the total revenue in the shipping sector, and those revenues are expected to jump more than 65 percent by 2022.
- Driver shortage has plagued the industry and is expected to worsen in the remainder of 2016 and beyond, caused by retiring personnel and anticipated growth trends.
- Trucking companies face a deficit of nearly 50,000 drivers, a figure that will more than triple by 2024.
- Many in the industry believe that most new applicants – an estimated 88 percent – are deemed unqualified.
Discrimination from the Outset
Male or female, becoming a truck driver is no small feat. Extensive training, written exams, and road tests take time and money, and for many, particularly women, driving a big rig is a second career, after raising children or divorce. On the surface, the benefits are attractive – as CNBC reported, “fleet operators have been boosting pay and dangling 401(k) and tuition reimbursement programs… aggressively putting programs in place that directly target the fairer sex.” And as Ellen Voie, CEO of Women in Trucking Association, Inc. stated, “As a truck driver, you make the same amount of money as your male peers, because you neither get paid by the mile or the load of the percentage. So gender is not an issue in pay in the truck industry for drivers.”
The reality is that some men dominating the culture aren’t ready or don’t want female reports or counterparts, so the discrimination starts early. for example, in May 2016, New Prime Trucking, Inc., one of the country’s largest trucking companies agreed to pay more than $3.1 million to women who were victims of its unlawful discriminatory hiring policy, which required female candidates to only be trained by female instructors. According to an EEOC press release, the company’s same-sex training protocol “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. Male applicants were promptly assigned to male trainers.”
Discrimination on the Job
Obtaining a commercial operator’s license doesn’t protect a woman from discrimination. Stories of catcalling, persistent lewd behavior, and even sexual assault show the challenges for women drivers working in the trucking industry.
In a 2015 class action lawsuit, details of which were reported by Fast company, women drivers for CRST Expedited, Inc. alleged “systemic gender discrimination” within the company. Specific examples include:
- Propositioning female drivers for sex
- Requesting sex as a condition of passing driver training
- Sexually assaulting female drivers
- Threatening rape or assault
- Physically touching and intentionally exposing themselves to women
The plaintiffs – a class of more than 100 female drivers – also claimed that CRST supervisors and managers had knowledge of the discriminatory conduct, yet allowed the behavior to continue. The complaint further alleged that the women faced retaliation for reporting the illicit behavior in the form of “kidnapping them, kicking them off shared trucks, making false reports of their misconduct, Threatening them with weapons, Threatening physical harm, spreading rumors that they are prostitutes, preventing them from contacting CRST for assistance, and refusing to assist them with work-related tasks.” Mary Review published more graphic details of the treatment endured by Cathy Sellars, the lead plaintiff.
In 2014, a California jury rendered a $1.4 million verdict in favor of a 45-year-old female trainee driver who claimed CRST fostered a hostile work environment by failing to prevent or address her male trainer’s unwanted touching and sexual comments. The jury ordered $1.17 million in punitive damages – There times the amount of her actual damages – after finding that the trainer’s behavior was” malicious” and “with a conscious disregard” for the plaintiff’s rights.
other cases involving discrimination toward female truck operators have been filed against Central Refrigerated Service Inc. (a male supervisor showed a female driver a pornographic video on his computer at a truck stop, then abandoned her at the stop when she reported it to company headquarters), Old Dominion Freight Line (a female driver was terminated when she attempted to reclaim her job after an injury), and United Parcel Service (the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a female trucker could sue for discrimination when the company refused her request for accommodation after she was advised by a medical professional not to lift heavy items while pregnant, even though the company had accommodated other non-pregnancy related conditions).
The Law Protects Women Truckers
Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act and state antidiscrimination laws empower women subjected to sexual harassment, hostile work environments, and other on-the-job abuse to pursue their rights and seek appropriate compensation. Before a woman can bring a lawsuit against an employer for gender discrimination, she must file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) and/or a state or local agency. The very first step, however, should be to consult an attorney experienced in sexual harassment actions.