CRST plans to appeal $1.17 million judgment in harassment case

| 5/17/2011

A spokeswoman for CRST International, Inc. says the company plans to file an appeal after a California jury awarded a female driver more than $1.17 million in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Brooke Willey, vice president of human resources for Cedar Rapids-based CRST, told Land Line on Tuesday, May 17, that CRST is “extremely disappointed in the verdict and has solid grounds for appeal.”

“CRST is proud to employ women in the workplace and will continue our long-standing tradition of promoting diversity within our work force,” Willey said in a statement. “We are proud of our record of training and enabling thousands of women to enter the national truck driving work force, performing as equals alongside men.”

After a female driver’s six-year court battle, a jury awarded former CRST trainee Karen Shank more than $1.17 million. The jury assessed punitive damages against both the trainer and CRST.

Elizabeth Riles, a partner with the law firm Bohbot & Riles in Oakland, CA, who represented Shank, told Land Line recently that she had heard CRST planned to appeal the verdict.

Shank was a trainee for CRST in 2005 when she was assigned John Wilson as her trainer.

Riles said Shank completed her driver training, but quit a day after she was assigned a male co-driver. She said Shank then filed a lawsuit in 2006 after her complaints about her trainer’s sexual comments and unwanted touching weren’t addressed by the company.

“This was definitely a long haul for our client because she pretty much left the industry after working for CRST,” Riles said recently. “It’s been a long six years of litigating and fighting, but at the end of the day, the jury believed our client. They believed that CRST didn’t do what they needed to do to prevent harassment in the workplace, and that they certainly didn’t do what they needed to do to protect our client from it.”

Riles said some jurors they spoke to after the 24-day trial ended in early May said they found flaws with CRST’s “enforcement and investigation practices on how they dealt with her client’s complaints.”

Riles said Shank’s former trainer, Wilson, wasn’t fired by the company after being notified of her complaints alleging sexual harassment. Instead, he left the company voluntarily a while later to join another trucking company. The jury did find punitive damages against Wilson for $3,500 in the action.

In CRST’s statement about the verdict, “CRST has a clear policy prohibiting sexual harassment and also prohibiting retaliation against anyone who makes a harassment complaint.
“CRST trains all of its drivers on CRST’s policies prohibiting harassment and requiring any violations be reported and obtains each driver’s signed acknowledgement that they understood those policies,” the statement read.

Riles said her client, Shank, left the trucking industry after completing her training with CRST.

“When you step onto the truck as a trainee or as a new team driver, for the most part you are getting on the truck with a complete stranger,” Riles said. “You are expected to have real trust with that other person, and you are putting your life into their hands. But sometimes that trust is broken, and companies must pay attention to these types of concerns or complaints.”