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Friday, August 22, 2014

Same-Sex Trucking Trainer Ruled Discriminatory


By: Tommy Eden 
            St. Louis based New Prime Inc. implemented a "same-sex trainer policy" in 2004.  Prime is an interstate trucking company with over 4,000 trucks and about 6,700 drivers, both independent contractors and employees. It required all applicants who do not meet Prime's driver experience requirements to receive over-the-road training by an instructor and/or trainer who is the same gender as the applicant unless there is some pre-existing relationship between the female applicant and male instructor/trainer. The over the road training could take up to one year depending on the trainee’s level of past experience. Prior to the adoption of this policy, women were put on trucks with the first available instructor/trainer regardless of their gender. The same-sex trainer policy was adopted after Prime was involved in a sexual harassment case brought by three female truck driver trainees.

            The effect of this policy was that when a female applicant was ready to be assigned to a trainer or instructor a female driver had to be available and or was placed on a "female waiting list". Prime only had 5 female trainers and hundreds of female applicants. Prime did not have a male waiting list. The female waiting list could be longer than a year.

            Deanna Clouse, a female, applied for enrollment with Prime's driver training program. In January 2009, Clouse was told Prime would call her when they had a female trainer available but "not to hold her breath." She informed Prime that she was willing to be trained by a man in order to enter the training program but was told that was not allowed. After 6 months with no call, Clouse filed an EEOC charge. The EEOC then took on Clouse’s case and converted it into a class investigation, and later filed suit in Federal Court.

            Last week a Federal District Judge ruled that the Prime Same-Sex Training Policy was unlawfully discriminatory under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is a class of 675 females who will most likely participate in the damage stage of the case.

Common Sense Counsel: The only thing worse than not reacting to complaints of harassment is over reacting. This week the Office of Federal Complaint Compliance issued directives on gender-identity discrimination. So when you do your next respectful workplace training consider including sexual orientation and gender identification and follow these seven tips: 1) include all protected classifications; 2) provide “suitable for work” examples; 3) explain various reporting channels; 4) make sure you are using a legally compliant policy; 5) avoid legalese; 6) do it regularly; and 7) get a signed policy receipt.


            Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Blog at www.alabamaatwork.com and follow on twitter @tommyeden3