Trucking company faces commercial class action lawsuit over threats of violence, harassment against female trainees

by Jay Pate

A commercial litigation class action lawsuit filed against Cedar Rapids Steel Transport Expedited (CRST) alleges that that the trucking company repeatedly ignored allegations of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment that were reported by female long-haul truck drivers. Lead plaintiffs Cathy Sellars, Claudia Lopez and Leslie Fortune allege that female trainee drivers were pressured into not reporting their complaints for the sake of keeping their job, and that those who did file allegations were subject to retaliation or other forms of reprisal.

Trainee truck drivers with CRST spend extended periods of time alone on a truck with a trainee or co-driver, where they are vulnerable to unwanted sexual advances and other forms of harassment, the complaint alleges. Because of CRST’s failure to properly investigate claims made by female trainees or take disciplinary action against male drivers and instructors who engage this behavior, a working environment has arisen at the company in which men feel emboldened to make more aggressive and potentially advances towards their female co-workers.

Many female trainees at CRST have alleged that they were the victim of rape, sexual assault, or assault with a weapon, the lawsuit alleges. Some of these women—including the plaintiffs in the lawsuit—have been forced to carry a TASER, knife, or other means of self-defense in order to fend off unwanted advances or threats of violence from make drivers.

Although driver training at CRST costs thousands of dollars, trainee drivers can agree to have their debt forgiven if they sign an eight month contract to drive for the company. However, because of CRST’s failure to properly respond to allegations of sexual assault or harassment, many women who agree to these contracts are forced to keep silent about these incidents for fear of wrongful termination and being forced to repay thousands in training costs.

The plaintiffs stated in their complaint that they had to endure offensive sexual remarks, comments about their bodies, and sexual propositions from other drivers. The women say that when they refused these advances or reported male drivers to CRST, they were subjected to retaliation from the drivers, including kidnapping, being kicked off of a shared truck, false reports of misconduct, threats made with weapons, beatings, threatened beatings, rumors of prostitution, or refusing assistance with work-related tasks.

The three plaintiffs allege that although CRST repeatedly stated that it would investigate threats of sexual violence or harassment against male drivers, these allegations inadequate and biased, producing no results in helping women who were threatened by their male colleagues. Instead, the company merely places these drivers on a “no females” list, forbidding them to drive with women for six months.

An attorney representing the three plaintiffs calls the allegations against CRST contained in their lawsuit “beyond troubling”. Sellers alleges that after her trainer made unwanted sexual advances and engaged in other inappropriate behavior, she filed a complaint with CRST, only to be pulled off of the truck while the trainer was allowed to keep his job. She alleges that in another incident, a trainer held her at knifepoint when she called the dispatch operator to register a complaint. Lopez alleges that one of her trainers threatened to rape her. In another instance, she said that she failed to report an attempted sexual assault by her co-driver for fear that doing so would cost her her paycheck. Fortune alleged that after she refused sexual advances from one of her trainers, she was kicked off of the truck and later subject to verbal abuse after she filed a complaint. On another occasion, Fortune says that she found out that another trainer who had threatened her with rape had been promoted by CRST.

Commercial Litigation Claims Filed by Heygood, Orr & Pearson

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by Jay Pate

John “Jay” Pate is a licensed attorney who focuses his practice on complex tort litigation involving catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and product liability cases.