Big win in court for female truckers in sexual harassment case against Iowa trucking company

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — In a win for female truck drivers — who have been sounding the alarm about sexual harassment in their industry long before #MeToo — an Iowa judge allowed for the unsealing of documents tied to a class-action sexual harassment lawsuit filed by over 100 women truckers.

The documents could show how Cedar Rapids-based CRST, one of America’s largest trucking companies, mishandled numerous sexual harassment claims by its female employees.

The plaintiffs allege that male truckers regularly engage in “sexually offensive conduct” toward female drivers, including requiring sex as a condition of passing driver training, sexually assaulting female drivers, threatening rape or violence, and intentionally touching and exposing their genitalia.

If the women refuse, “retaliatory measures could include, but were not limited to, making false reports of their misconduct, threatening them with weapons, physical harm, kicking them off trucks, spreading rumors that they are prostitutes, preventing them from contacting CRST for assistance, and refusing to assist them with work-related tasks.”

The lawsuit also alleges that at CRST, female employees who file complaints about male truckers face a broken system of accountability that often grants impunity to their abusers.

Cathy Sellars, one of the plaintiffs, describes repeated harassment throughout her employment at CRST. It started aboard her first truck with her first trainer, who she says masturbated in front of her the first night they traveled together. He asked if she wanted to “join him.” Sellars says she declined and retreated to her bunk. The next night, after they shut down, he came into the sleeper berth and began pulling her shirt off. She struggled away and again fled to her bunk.

The following day, she called dispatch, complaining to a fleet manager, who she says told her he’d known the driver for a long time “and didn’t think he would do anything like that.” A human resources representative, she says, told her that it was “her word against his,” even though they hadn’t yet talked to the other driver.

Another plaintiff, Claudia Lopez, worked at CRST from May 2014 to January 2015. During that time, Lopez reported that she woke up to find her male co-driver lying naked on top of her. He also asked her to shower with him, before ultimately abandoning her near Miami. After she contacted human resources, the company failed to investigate, the complaint said.

Truck driving remains an industry that is 95 percent male, leaving women drivers vulnerable. But it also regularly faces a severe shortage of drivers due to extremely high turnover rate of 90 percent. Ironically, the industry has been actively recruiting women drivers to make up for the shortage.

“Just as it protects women who work in offices, Title VII applies with equal force in traditionally male-dominated fields,” said Giselle Schuetz, a lawyer for the women truck drivers. “Women make many sacrifices to obtain job training in a new field in hopes of improving their lives and better supporting their families. They should not be required to endure sexual assaults, harassment, and humiliation in order to drive a truck.”