March 09, 2012

Jenner & Block recently won a major victory for national trucking company CRST Van Expedited, Inc., when the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an Iowa federal trial court’s dismissal of 268 of the 270 Title VII individual sexual harassment claims brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC filed suit in 2007 under Title VII, alleging that CRST intentionally tolerated a pattern and practice of sexual harassment of its female drivers, and sought compensatory and punitive damages for 270 female drivers.  The EEOC’s suit challenged the company’s team-driving business model and attacked its reputation as a company that provided women with training and job opportunities in a traditionally male-dominated industry.  Having required long-haul trucking companies not to follow a same-sex team-driving or training policy, the EEOC sought many millions of dollars in damages and control over CRST’s policy and procedures for preventing and remedying sexual harassment of female drivers by their male training driver or co-driver.

In the district court, after taking more than 150 depositions of class members, Jenner & Block won summary judgment on the EEOC’s pattern and practice claim, defeating the EEOC’s effort to obtain broad injunctive relief and class-wide punitive damages.  The Firm argued that the EEOC had not presented evidence that CRST’s anti-harassment policy and enforcement procedures were invalid, that sexual harassment was pervasive and tolerated by CRST, and that CRST should be vicariously liable for the alleged misconduct of its male training drivers.  The result achieved by the Firm is believed to be only the second pattern and practice sexual harassment case won by an employer on summary judgment.  CRST also won dismissal on summary judgment on other grounds of all but 67 of the 270 individual claims.  In another stunning decision, the district court then dismissed the remaining 67 claims on the ground that the EEOC had failed to satisfy Title VII’s pre-suit obligations to investigate each claim, make a determination whether each claim was supported by reasonable cause, and offer in good faith to conciliate each claim.

The EEOC chose not to appeal the pattern or practice ruling, but did seek reversal as to 107 individual claims, including the dismissal based on the agency’s failure to fulfill its pre-suit obligations.  In its February 22, 2012 ruling, the 8th Circuit affirmed as to all but two individual claims.  According to a story in Law360, “The majority held that the EEOC had not tried to ascertain the size of its putative class of employees, and that as a result it had not tried to investigate the claims of the 67 women during its investigation of the sexual harassment charge — brought by a single CRST employee — that led to the litigation.”  It also stated that, “The majority also sided with the district court on its rulings on the merits of the EEOC's claims on behalf of some of the women, concluding that the lead drivers who trained new recruits were not supervisors but coworkers and that as a result CRST could not be held vicariously liable for their conduct.”

Partner John H. Mathias, Jr. led the Firm’s team, which also included Partners Sarah Hardgrove-Koleno, James T. Malysiak, Sally K. Sears Coder; Of Counsel Richard P. Campbell and Emma J.Sullivan; former partner Robert T. Markowski; Associates Ashley M. Schumacher, Michele L. Slachetka; former associate Andrew J. Hirth; and Senior Paralegal Cheryl J. Kras.