Federal judge rules Prime's driver training policy discriminates against women

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Wednesday, August 20, 2014

One of the nation’s largest refrigerated carriers has been found to have discriminated against women who applied for truck driving jobs, a federal judge ruled earlier this month.

New Prime Inc. of Springfield, Mo., which does business as Prime, was found to have engaged in sexual discrimination against women for forcing new drivers and trainees to train only with persons of the same sex, according to a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Harpool.

The discrimination claim is based on the company’s Prime Student Driver School, which was designed to assist with recruitment and training of new drivers. Students at the school are made up of individuals looking to earn their CDLs, or those who may have a CDL but do not have the required experience – between 50,000 and 60,000 miles with a trainer – to be eligible to drive solo.

As a result of the 2003 sexual harassment suit, Prime implemented a “same-sex trainer policy” in 2004, requiring all applicants who do not meet Prime’s experience requirements to receive over-the-road training by a trainer who is the same gender as the applicant unless there is some pre-existing relationship between the female applicant and male trainer.

The most recent ruling comes after a series of motions filed by Prime and by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed suit against the company on behalf of Deanna Roberts Clouse and an unknown number of other women who had sought employment as truck drivers with the company. The court rejected all of Prime’s motions and ruled that the company's policy violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it discriminated against women.

According to the initial complaint filed by the EEOC on behalf of Clouse, Prime’s policy was to force female applicants to be put on a waiting list for female trainers, unless the female applicant could produce a male trainer with whom she had a prior relationship, such as through marriage or family. There was no such waiting list for male trainees.

Clouse filed a discrimination charge with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in 2009, after she applied for enrollment with Prime’s driver training program.

Court records state that prior to applying, Clouse had been a team driver with a male truck driver. She had worked in the trucking industry as a dispatcher and had obtained a Missouri Class B CDL in 1997. She had also previously been authorized to operate commercial vehicles in Ohio and in and out of Canada. While Clouse had experience operating commercial vehicles throughout the United States, she did not have a Class A CDL, which was required by Prime to drive a truck.

“Clouse applied to Prime for the training program so she could obtain a Class A CDL,” Harpool wrote in his ruling. “She was put on a waiting list as there were no female trainers available. 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.”

Prime’s attorneys had argued that the policy was based on safety and privacy concerns for women, according to JoAnne Spears Jackson, an attorney for the company.

“In 2004, Prime implemented a training policy that required that its over-the-road truck driver trainees be trained by someone of the same gender,” Jackson said in an email with Land Line on Wednesday. “Prime implemented the policy in good faith believing that significant concerns for the safety and privacy of its female driver trainees satisfied a long-recognized exception to the discrimination laws. In its recent ruling, the Court did not agree that this exception applied to this case.”

According to the judge’s ruling, as of March 2012 Prime had fewer than five female trainers.

The judge ruled the company’s policy “created an impermissible impediment to training and employment for female drivers that the male drivers did not face.”

“This was no small impediment but one which could require women to remain on the waiting list for a year or more while men faced no such delay,” the judge wrote in his ruling

The case is pending in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri in Springfield, Mo., and will now proceed with determining damages and remedies for the class of women who were harmed by the policy. 

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