On August 18, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a decision where a court found the employer’s “same-sex trainer policy” discriminated against female employees. EEOC and Clouse v. New Prime, Inc. (W.D. Miss. 2014).
Prime is an interstate trucking company that transports items throughout the United State, Mexico, and Canada. In an effort to recruit new drivers, Prime initiated a Prime Student Driver School to assist individuals to obtain the necessary skills to participate in trucking. If a student was hired by Prime, the employee was then required to train with a trainer. In 2004, Prime implemented a “same-sex trainer policy” that resulted in female applicants only being assigned to female instructors.
Importantly, before this policy was implemented, women were assigned trainers regardless of their gender. The new policy was adopted after New Prime, Inc. was involved in a sexual harassment case brought by three female truck drivers. The result of the new policy was female applicants were placed on waiting lists until female trainers were available to train. This waiting period could be longer than a year for female applicants whereas male applicants did not have a waiting list. The EEOC sued Prime, alleging this practice resulted in sex discrimination.
The court stated,
Prime contends it put the policy in place in order to protect female applicants. However, the policy is facially discriminatory, much like the policy in Johnson Control, in that it places limitations on the opportunities for female applicants to be trained versus men. Prior to this policy being implemented women were put on trucks with male or female drivers on a first come, first served basis. The same-sex policy created a waiting list for females while none existed for males. Therefore, there is no question the policy created an impermissible impediment to training and employment for female drivers that male drivers did not face.
The EEOC Regional Attorney said, “While Prime would like to claim it was protecting women, its policy denied employment opportunities to them. Women are entirely capable of understanding and assessing the risks of truck driving. But one of those risks should not be sexual harassment. Employers should prevent sexual harassment through training and strict enforcement of effective anti-harassment policies, not by segregating male and female employees.”
In this case, the employer failed to address the actual issue of how to prevent inappropriate conduct in the workplace and instead created inequalities among staff based on their gender. The employer should have taken steps to inform all staff, male and female, about what is considered appropriate conduct in the workplace per the employer’s anti-discrimination policy. The employer also should have provided training to all staff on that policy including what steps an employee should take if he or she believed that the policy had not been followed. Instead, the employer implemented a policy that on its face, treated male and female staff members differently because of their gender. MSEC offers training on these issues and also provides employer handbook policy language that addresses anti-discrimination requirements.