Cathy Sellars can still remember the look of the knife her truck-driving instructor toyed with as they roared down the Arizona interstate. Sometimes he'd rest its finger-long blade on his leg, where it caught the glare of passing headlights as they drove through the night on their way from California; sometimes he'd set it on the dash. Earlier in the ride, he'd used it to cut up steaks. The way he was holding it now, though, sent a message, she thought. She was in danger.
In the days leading up to this moment during the road portion of her trucker training in February 2014, Sellars says the instructor showed her pornographic images on his smartphone and told her that he wanted to tie her up and “do things to her.” She consistently refused his advances. They argued after she complained to dispatch that she was too tired to drive. He got angry and “shoved me on the passenger seat and messed up my shoulder and my head.” He started driving, and then the knife came out. When we speak in July 2015, she's still rattled, but her tone is deliberate; at the time, she remembers being petrified. “I didn't realize the pain until I got to Riverside,” she says. “That's how tense.”
Female truckers endure degrading comments, sexual harassment and assault, propositions, and threats of violence.
Women who file complaints face a broken system of accountability that often grants impunity to their assaulters.
Truck driving remains a field that is 95 percent male, leaving female drivers vulnerable.
Riverside is home to the West Coast terminal of trucking company CRST, located just off Interstate 215 in California. Cordoned off by a high wall, its lot is full of anonymous-looking trucks parked in neat rows. Each contains goods being shipped on behalf of CRST's clients, a group that includes companies today's consumer interacts with on an almost daily basis, such as FedEx and e-commerce giant Amazon, as well as Boeing, a government contractor. Trucking-company terminals are places where paperwork gets filled out, driving orders are given, and partners are assigned. They can often be social hubs for drivers, breaking up the monotony and solitude they face on the road. Riverside is a critical home base for CRST, the company Sellars was training with, and as a driver she would have had to stop there often.
Ever since she started with CRST in December 2013, she says, she'd put up with comments from male drivers at the terminal, typically about her ass or sexual acts they wanted to perform on her. According to a legal complaint she filed, one driver masturbated in front of her in the back of their cab after they stopped driving for the evening; another tried to pull her shirt off while she rested in her truck's sleeper berth. “They acted like they had never seen a woman before,” Sellars says. “It was demeaning and degrading. [They acted like] the only reason I was there was to sleep with everyone.” She says she observed an on-duty terminal manager at Riverside who appeared to overhear sexual remarks directed at her but ignored them.
- ‟It was demeaning and degrading. [They acted like] the only reason I was there was to sleep with everyone.”
Age 55 at the time, Sellars had divorced in 2000 after more than a decade of marriage. Her children were grown. While she was married, she'd earned money working various service-industry jobs—toll collector, cashier, bookkeeper—but now she wanted to find a new profession, one that would offer her an independent lifestyle. She wasn't intimidated by the idea of maneuvering a 40-ton truck, sitting virtually immobile for hours at a time in a hulking pilot seat just inches away from someone she barely knew, sleeping in a small bunk in the back of the cab. She was fine with all of it—in fact, she craved the dramatic change. She planned to work for CRST when she finished her training.
The Investigative Fund, in conjunction with Public Justice, filed a request in the Northern District of Iowa to have even more documents related to the CRST case unsealed.
During her first few weeks as a driver, she reported numerous instances of harassment, discussing the incidents with a CRST human-resources representative over the phone on more than one occasion and calling her trainer's dispatcher. According to the allegations in her complaint, the dispatcher said he'd “known [the driver] a while and didn't think [he] would do anything like that.” She spoke with two injured drivers who were working at the Riverside terminal's front desk, one of whom later stated under oath that Sellars appeared “very upset.” The other stated under oath that she'd described an incident to him in which “one of the other drivers solicited her, telling her he wanted her to come to his truck to have sex with him. She told him no.” (A lawyer for CRST declined to comment on Sellars's experiences specifically, but says that complaints at the company are tracked, recorded, and investigated.)
All of this was far from her mind in the cabin of the truck, with her trainer alternately pointing his knife at her and turning his eyes back to the road. She pleaded to get off the truck, but he refused to stop. She sent distress calls to her dispatchers through the Qualcomm system, a small, laptop-like device drivers rely on for internal communications, but got no immediate response. She needed to get out, and no one was telling her how.
Trucks move some 9.2 billion tons of freight annually in the United States, according to the industry's trade group, the American Trucking Associations. That's nearly 70 percent of the country's total freight tonnage, making the trucking industry a critical backbone of American business, industry, and infrastructure. Truckers deliver the parts for your car, the merchandise that sits on your grocery store's shelves, the food that's on your plate at a restaurant, and, increasingly, the stuff you ordered online. A report released earlier this year by the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that, in seasonally adjusted terms, trucks carried 36 percent more freight this March than they did in March 2000.
The people driving those trucks, however, are largely invisible to us. The few women in trucking—which is currently around 95 percent male, according to industry estimates—in particular tell a dark story about what goes on. Many of them describe a poisonous atmosphere where they're subjected to on-the-job sexual harassment ranging from catcalling to rape. A review of legal documents, as well as interviews with dozens of drivers, lawyers, and industry experts, reveals a broken structure of accountability that creates few incentives for taking their claims seriously and, in many cases, leaves women in danger.
Today, many of the women who try to break into trucking see the profession as a second act. They tend to start in the industry in their 40s and 50s, reentering the workforce after their children have left home. Some are recently divorced or seeking independence after severing emotional and financial ties with men. A college degree isn't required to begin training, and wages can crack six figures for experienced drivers, making trucking a particularly attractive new career path.
Before they can be hired full time by a trucking company, aspiring drivers must qualify for a commercial driver's license, which involves passing both written and road exams. While some community colleges and trucking schools offer training programs, many companies, including CRST, run their own. Good drivers are hard to find and in high demand. Some work solo, while others work in teams and take turns driving while the other sleeps. Because trucking can be a physically grueling gig—drivers have a higher risk of heart disease, back pain, diabetes, sleep apnea, and depression compared to the general public—turnover in the business is high, consistently 90 percent or more within the first year, according to the ATA, which estimated the industry faced a shortfall of 48,000 drivers at the end of 2015. (The ATA did not respond to requests for comment.)
- ‟It creates a power situation where a man can act in a harassing way and a woman may be intimidated to complain.”
The lack of drivers has made efficiency a prime concern for trucking-company managers, increasing the appeal of the team method, which keeps trucks on the road for more hours at a time and gets loads shipped more quickly. Drivers are paid by the mile, an incentive structure that encourages them to drive the maximum ten hours allowed each day, and although most trucking companies mandate that their drivers stay in regular touch with supervisors, in the cab they are functionally alone. This “gives an opportunity for someone to misbehave without immediate repercussions,” says James E. Gruber, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn who studies sexual harassment and served as an expert witness in a trucking-industry case. “No one else is witnessing what has happened. It creates a power situation where a man can act in a harassing way and a woman may be intimidated to complain because she's a newcomer and doesn't have the power. She's worried about retaliation. You have a situation where if you're a harasser, it's almost ideal.”
And because the trucking companies are short on drivers, they may be disinclined to take an experienced driver off the road, even one who's been accused of harassment. “It's pretty much guaranteed in a trucking situation that there will be no witnesses,” says Dayna Deck, an attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who has worked on trucking-related issues. “What happens is you have to make a credibility judgment, and the only way we find out is if a complaint is filed.”
“For women, [trucking] can be especially dangerous,” says Desiree Wood, founder of Real Women in Trucking, a grassroots organization of women in the industry. She and other female commercial-motor-vehicle drivers started the group in 2010 to provide support and information for fellow women in the industry; its name distinguishes it from Women in Trucking, a separate group that RWIT members have criticized for having trucking-company executives on its board. Wood, a divorced mother of two and grandmother of six, entered the industry in December 2007 and began blogging about her experiences, writing posts—about life on the road, the image of women in trucking, company safety standards—at first entirely on her phone when she was pulled over during her rest breaks, attempting to connect with other women who were facing challenges entering the business. The trucking industry's attitude toward women is antiquated, she says. “A woman entering trucking doesn't have anyone looking out for them. Some people may say that they want to help, but the guys stick together.”Over the last twenty years, hundreds of women have brought gender-discrimination claims against entities in the trucking industry. While it's difficult to gauge precisely how many, data provided by the EEOC shows that the organization received 414 complaints between 2005 and 2015 alone, a noteworthy number considering the low proportion of women in the industry. On average, nearly one in six of those cite race as part of the nature of the claim, and almost two-thirds say they experienced retaliation as a result of reporting the harassment.
About 270 women were part of a suit brought by the EEOC against CRST in 2007. Sworn testimony in that case revealed what lawyers called a “chronic pattern of sexual harassment and sexual assaults by male codrivers and trainers against women drivers.” Lawyers charged that male drivers who had been accused of harassment were barred from training women for only six months and “virtually never disciplined.” The case was poorly executed, however, and the EEOC was criticized by lawyers who specialize in sexual harassment for everything from missing deadlines to inappropriately defining the class. A judge dismissed the case in 2009. According to a brief filed in an appeal of the ruling, of the 72 women who complained to CRST in 2005, almost half say their male instructor or codriver propositioned them for sex, and nearly two-thirds of those say their instructors either raped them, threatened to rape them, sexually assaulted them, or “subjected them to other forms of offensive sex-based touching.” (In May of this year, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that CRST was entitled to pursue a court-awarded $4.5 million in legal fees resulting from the case from the EEOC.)
CRST Expedited, one of the largest team-trucking companies in the country, is not alone in facing gender-based lawsuits; New Prime and Swift, both large trucking companies, have faced legal action in the last 20 years for gender discrimination. CRST is now the defendant in another class action, filed in May of last year. The new case—an attempt to remedy the problems with the earlier case brought by the EEOC, say lawyers involved—cites complaints filed by more than 100 female CRST drivers over the last decade, including Cathy Sellars, charging that women who drive for CRST are subjected to a “hostile work environment” and “systemic gender discrimination.” The particular accusations in the class-action case range from verbal harassment to rape. (A protective order prevents attorneys for both the women involved and CRST from revealing the precise distribution and nature of complaints involved in the case.) Beyond this, the suit alleges that CRST allows male drivers to stay on the road, earning money, while their female accusers wait to be reassigned to another partner; in many other industries, the accused are suspended or removed from the workplace if an investigation is pending.
Kevin Visser, an attorney representing CRST whom the company designated to act as a spokesman, declined to comment on the class-action suit specifically, citing the pending litigation, and added that CRST “expects to resist any attempt to certify this as a 'class' because it does not believe that there is either sufficient 'numerosity' of prospective plaintiffs or that 'commonality' of whatever complaints there may be exists.” He notes that CRST has a greater proportion of women in its ranks than the industry average (15 percent of its drivers are women, versus roughly 5 percent industry-wide) and that the company has taken steps to combat harassment, such as operating a 24-7 sexual-harassment help line and covering sexual-harassment prevention in its orientation, including videos, written and verbal explanation of anti-harassment policies, and discussions about how to register complaints. Since approximately 2007, all CRST drivers have been required to sign a statement acknowledging that they've received and read the company's policy against harassment and discrimination and agreeing that they will report any violations of the policy to their fleet manager or to human resources.
CRST tracks complaints by drivers, Visser says, and punishments for offenders can range from a note in the driver's file stating that he should not be paired with a female codriver (typically represented by the letters “NF,” for “no females,” written next to the driver's name) to termination of employment. According to Visser, dispatchers refer complaints to HR staff, who fill out intake sheets noting the time and date the complaint was received, as well as details of the parties involved. Investigations are conducted over the phone based on a script with eleven sets of open-ended questions for the accuser and the accused, Visser says; he provided a copy of the script, which includes questions about what happened, the driver's “current situation,” and whether or not there were any witnesses. That process was formalized in 2010, he says, partially in response to the EEOC case, and a new HR officer was brought in to implement it.
Visser declined to specify the number of complaints CRST received before or after the policy was instituted and indicated that there may not be specific criteria governing whether an accused harasser will be terminated or deemed “NF,” although he does say that an “NF” designation typically results from multiple, independently verified claims. He says the company doesn't track how many people are dismissed from the company as a result of sexual-assault claims. “Part of having a good policy is you're going to get more reports,” Visser says. “The company feels like it is a leader in the industry in terms of encouraging individuals to come forward without having the fear of retaliation.”
“A company that has a real functioning policy against harassment and discrimination is not going to have pervasive instances in the first place,” says Giselle Schuetz, a lawyer representing women truckers in the case. “And if something does come up, they're going to be taking immediate effective action to ensure that it doesn't perpetuate in the future.” Visser describes CRST's efforts to combat harassment as “voluminous.” When asked if he could provide Mary Review with the section of the company's training manual pertaining to sexual harassment, however, he produced three pages containing mostly boilerplate language that doesn't address the unique circumstances involved in commercial driving.
A common theme among the allegations in the class action is that repeated reports of harassment went unnoticed. One woman named in the suit, Claudia Lopez, told a CRST manager in mid-2014 that a male driver said he was going “to rape her and marry her and take her with me,” according to her allegations filed in the case. The manager told her he would relay her complaint to human resources, and that she did the right thing by reporting it. Roughly a week later, a CRST human-resources manager spoke with Lopez on the phone and asked her to submit a written account of the incident, which she did. She said that the human-resources representative never followed up for further details, nor did she conduct any interviews with witnesses or parties involved. When Lopez told a CRST safety representative at the Riverside terminal that she was worried another of her harassers could find her, she said the coordinator responded that it was a “big world” and she wouldn't see him. Another CRST driver involved in the class action, Leslie Fortune, called her fleet manager from the road to report that her codriver had been “drinking, smoking marijuana, and propositioning her for sex,” according to allegations in the complaint. She said that the fleet manager laughed and told her, “You guys can work this out.” She filed a written complaint with human resources about the incident and said she was never told what action, if any, had been taken as a result. (Visser, CRST's attorney, says the company, while unable to comment on specifics, denied allegations by Sellars, Lopez, and Fortune, adding, “If those actions did occur, they would clearly be outliers and contrary to a well-established protocol for encouraging reporting, and addressing it promptly, and looping back with the complaining individual.”)
Schuetz and other lawyers involved in the current class action against CRST say that the “no females” policy, far from being an appropriate administrative response, instead reinforces the widely held attitude among male drivers that they can proposition their female codrivers with impunity. “In effect,” says the May 2015 filing, “all CRST does is take away the perk, when a trainer is reported.”
Cynthia Curley, a driver who trained with CRST in Iowa in August 2015, after the class-action suit was filed, says that much of what she was assured of during the course turned out to be false. “Before you get into [a truck], you're told you are never paired with someone you don't want to be with, you can pick who you go with,” she says. “But that's not true at all. They throw you with whoever. You don't know who they are, and the company doesn't know who they are either.
Last November, on a trip from Salt Lake City to Chicago, Curley says her trainer began behaving strangely, insisting that the windows be left down even though the weather was freezing, refusing to stop because there were people trying to get him, and telling her a story about someone ”driving around with a dead trainer in the back of the truck. I thought that was bizarre,“ she says. ”I thought, I'm dealing with a paranoid.“ She messaged her dispatcher via the Qualcomm system and eventually persuaded her trainer to let her off, then says she had no follow-up contact with CRST for three days. (Visser says the company's investigative protocol ”expressly requires follow-up, and also provides for 'layover pay' for any driver who gets off a truck for such safety reasons.“) When she made it back to the company's terminal in Riverside, she says she reported the entire incident but never heard about the complaint again. She has since been fired from the company for allegedly failing to report an accident, a charge she denies.
The conditions for harassment are built into the very structure of the trucking business, beginning with the training process. Tuition varies among trucking schools but is typically a few thousand dollars, though it may be waived in some cases if coursework is completed and a designated term working for a company is served out, leaving many women financially shackled to their companies, stuck with a choice between debt and fear. Many also fail to report abuse lest they be blacklisted in the industry, which relies heavily on references and reputation.
Although there is a classroom component, trucker training largely happens on the road, where a trainee is paired with a more experienced driver—who, because of the gender dynamics of the industry, is almost always male. A case brought against New Prime in Missouri in 2011 challenged that company's policy—created in response to harassment complaints related to male-female pairings—of making female trainees wait up to a year to be assigned to a female trainer, leaving them unable to work and without compensation. In 2014, a federal judge found the policy to be discriminatory, a decision that rippled throughout the industry, opening the door for the creation of more mixed-sex training teams. It was an ”important ruling,“ says Visser, CRST's lawyer. He adds that ”if a company has an all-man and all-woman team, it certainly reduces opposite-sex harassment and discriminatory claims, but it denies women an opportunity to get into the job if they're sitting around waiting for a woman driver to train them.“
Trucking companies prefer to hire experienced drivers, and whether that experience is as a solo driver or a team driver makes a difference. Because of the longer hours, fewer stops, quick turnarounds, and greater profits in team trucking, team drivers are greatly in demand. To be paired with a novice, drivers are required to have six months of driving experience with the company and a clean HR record before they're able to start teaching, says Visser, and are also paid a bonus on their per-mile rate. Meanwhile, trainee wages are docked until their tuition costs have been repaid.
The US Department of Education has determined that sexual harassment constitutes a Title IX violation for institutions receiving federal assistance, a group that includes many trucking schools, which may accept money from federal Pell grants. While at least one other large trucking company's sexual-harassment policy designates the cab as a classroom space and forbids sexual activity between a trainer and trainee, even if the two are married, CRST's policy describes relationships between coworkers as ”usually their own business and no concern to the Company.“
”You'd be shocked at who becomes a trainer,“ says Jeananne Onstayan, who started driving for CRST in 2001 and later became a trainer for the company. ”People do it for the money. All of a sudden, the trainer made good miles. You were getting these huge paychecks. People wanted to be a trainer because they had a money incentive.“ As a trainer, Onstayan says that she had very little oversight, and that in her experience, trainers were always given the first word in disputes. One of her students had a ”huge crush“ on her, she says, and would masturbate under the sheets in his bunk. Another told her that he'd killed people. She never reported either incident. ”My choice at that time was, I didn't want turmoil and conflict,“ she says.
Many men ”get on a truck with a girl and start having fantasies, and that's when it gets weird,“ Onstayan says. ”They start acting like your boyfriend. When you want to change codrivers, they're hurt like a breakup. Right or wrong, they get excited because they have a woman on the truck.“
At every stage in the process of reporting harassment or abuse, women describe a system built on callous indifference and lax enforcement, beginning with their communications with company dispatchers. Cynthia Curley says that her dispatcher initially responded to her distress call about her seemingly unhinged codriver by asking whether she could stay on until the end of the trip. Cathy Sellars's complaints about harassment were greeted with the administrative equivalent of blank stares, she says. When she called human resources to find out the status of a complaint, she was told by a representative that it was ”none of her business,“ according to a statement filed in the class action. Sellars later heard rumors that the man she'd complained about was still on the road. When she called again to report that a trainer had sexually harassed and assaulted her prior to the events in February 2014, she was told that HR would ”look into it“ but that it was ”her word against his,“ according to the same filing.
Visser calls the pairing of two drivers a ”square dance“ and says that the environment can be challenging for any two people regardless of gender; but if a woman calls from the road in distress, he says, she's taken off a rig, ”no questions asked.“ That a woman in danger will be able to reach a dispatcher or a help line is by no means a given, however. Trucking routes frequently take drivers through rural areas, where cellular service is spotty, and in a situation involving harassment or abuse, a woman might not have access to a phone at all. Marilyn Mejorado, who started training with another major trucking company in 2011, describes the situation bluntly. ”When you had to go out with the trainers, that's when the nightmare begins.“ She says that a trainer once took her cell phone, preventing her from reaching anyone off the rig and rendering sexual-harassment hotlines useless. The truck had a Qualcomm system, but all drivers have access to the system's message logs, including both received and sent messages. On another trip, she says she got off a rig in Cleveland after complaining that her trainer had road rage. ”I got stuck there for three days,“ she says, before she could return home to North Carolina. ”They said a trainer was coming. No one came. Nobody told me anything.“
Finally, the courts have not always been sympathetic to female truckers' cases. Ona Red Hat, a woman of Native American descent, sued CRST on charges of both sexual and racial harassment. The driver she was training with in 2009 made a rule that she was required to hold his hand and pretend they were a couple whenever they were at a truck stop, according to the facts Red Hat alleged in the case. (Red Hat could not be located for this article.) He made comments to her and to his dispatcher about other drivers, calling them ”dumb-ass Mexicans,“ and told Red Hat sexual jokes, such as that CRST stood for ”constantly raping student truckers.“ After discovering that her trainer and the dispatcher were friends, she decided not to call in the harassment until she ”woke up to find [her trainer] standing over her and touching her backside.“ According to Red Hat's allegation, she reported the harassment to her dispatcher and the CRST operations director that day.
Red Hat filed a racial-harassment suit in October 2011, after she had left CRST; her suit was dismissed after a judge determined that CRST had provided her with a copy of the company's harassment policy, that Red Hat had ”waited weeks“ to report the harassment, and that CRST had assigned her to a female driver as a result. Her first codriver remained on the road, according to facts Red Hat alleged, but the company placed a note in his file. Visser says the case was ”thrown out.“
Tom Newkirk, a civil-rights attorney, represented LaRhonda Austin, an African American trucker who filed a sexual-harassment case against CRST in 2013 alleging that one of her trainers talked repeatedly about his sexual history, forced her to urinate in a cup rather than stop at a restroom, referred to Austin as ”black sugar,“ and, when she was wearing a tank top, told her ”[those] girls look nice in that top“; another trainer propositioned her for sex, touched her waist, held her hand, attempted to hug her, and ”tried to pretend he was in a romantic relationship.“ Austin claimed that she was retaliated against by CRST for filing her sexual-harassment claims. Her case made it before a jury, which ruled in the company's favor. Newkirk credits gender bias with the suit's outcome. ”It's a constant theme for anyone who investigates sexual-harassment complaints in trucking,“ he said. ”They're consistently devaluing the content of the testimony of a woman because she's a woman.“
Not all harassment cases have been losses for women, however. One case in particular resulted in a significant settlement and is now regularly referred to by women in trucking as one of their biggest wins.
Karen Shank began trucker training at CRST in 2005. A divorcee with a high-school degree and two grown children, she'd been fascinated by trucks as a child and had worked as a fleet coordinator for another trucking company. After her divorce, it seemed like ”the perfect time“ to make the shift, she says now.
By the end of her training, Shank says that she was still hesitant about getting behind the wheel of a big rig. She became even more so when a fleet manager paired her with a driver who, from their first day on the road, began making sexually charged comments to her, telling her that ”what happens on this truck stays on this truck.“ Over the next few days, she says, he asked her if she had a vibrator, and caressed her hand as she reached for an ashtray and her leg as she climbed into her sleeping bunk. At one point, she went to put a sweater on over her tank top; he asked her not to, saying she should ”give an old man a cheap thrill.“ She attempted to reject his advances but did not report his behavior, fearing that ”her training would be jeopardized,“ the case found. ”I wasn't out there to meet anybody,“ she said. ”I wasn't out there to get hit on. I was there to learn how to drive a truck.“
Once during a stopover to fix the truck, Shank and her codriver went to a bar together, and by the end of the night, Shank was drunk. According to the facts listed in the court's decision, her codriver walked her back to her hotel room, and to thank him, Shank kissed him on the cheek. She then went into the bathroom to start getting ready to go to sleep, and when she came out, she found him naked on her bed. ”I was in disbelief,“ Shank says. ”I was just in shock. What could I say? I'm in the middle of nowhere, no stores open, nothing open after dark, in a little town, the truck supposedly broke down. I was so furious. I was counting the days till I was off the truck with him.“ He grabbed her and kissed her, but she pushed him away, then ran back into the bathroom and vomited. He left, and she didn't report the incident. ”They didn't go over how to complain in training,“ she says. (Visser says that both Shank and her trainer would have received and signed copies of CRST's sexual-harassment policy before they went out on the road.)
Several days later, the truck needed repairs again. This time, Shank and her codriver shared a room, which had a single bed; CRST would have charged them for half the additional cost of staying in separate rooms, according to statements provided in the case. After taking a shower, her trainer emerged from the bathroom naked and crawled into bed. At first Shank tried to ignore him, according to the decision. Soon, however, he began making advances toward her. The next thing she remembered, he was ”on top of [her] and inside [her].“
Shank has said both in court documents and in interviews that she ”froze.“ ”I felt like I had been prostituted through the states and nobody would help me,“ she says. She remembered ”lying there and staring at the curtains“ and being ”pretty much blank,“ she said.
According to the court's statement of facts, she didn't report the incident at the time because she ”blamed herself,“ and that she had been raped twice before. At the end of her training, according to facts presented in court, Shank filled out a standard evaluation of the driver without mentioning the sexual assault; the trainer recommended that she be approved for work at CRST.
After another codriver arranged the bunks in the back of the truck so that the two of them would effectively be sleeping in the same bed, Shank reported him to her fleet manager and also mentioned that her first driver had ”engaged in some inappropriate conduct and made sexual comments,“ according to the court's statement of facts. CRST put a notation in the second driver's file, but no investigation took place related to either driver's behavior, according to facts in the case. A few days after, in May 2005, Shank sent a resignation letter to CRST. In addition to mentioning the problems she had with her two codrivers, she wrote that from the start, she felt ”that in order to be an effective co-driver, I would be required to sleep with a male co-driver or [be] kicked off the truck.“
A month later, Shank received a collection notice for her $3,600 tuition fee. She called CRST and cited her complaints of sexual harassment and rape as reasons for not wanting to pay. According to the court's statement of facts, the collections representative she spoke with ”laughed and said she could not do anything about it without a police report.“ That was when she decided to sue. ”This time, I thought, No, it wasn't my fault,“ Shank says. ”Most rape victims think it's their fault, and I said, 'No, not this time.' I was in the workplace and I did my job and I wasn't going to let him get away with it.“ In 2011, after five years of litigation, two years after the EEOC's failed suit, and one year after CRST began revising its anti-harassment training, Shank won a civil case against the company, receiving a $1.5 million judgment.
Shank says therapy has helped her deal with the insomnia, depression, and anxiety that followed the ordeal. What happened made her feel ”stupid and humiliated,“ she says. ”I'm still fearful for my life. It's very hard for me to trust people. I'm withdrawn, I have very few close friends that I trust. I don't trust them with my emotions. It's taken its toll.“ Throughout the case, her alleged assailant asserted that there was insufficient evidence to prove that his advances were not welcome and denied ever having sex with her.
Cathy Sellars's alleged assailant, too, denied the accusations against him. He told Jezebel last year that not only was he still driving for CRST, but he ”continued training with the company.“ He disputed almost every aspect of Sellars's account, including that he held her against her will and that he had a knife. ”Being in the truck with a female, if she was mad at you, it was easier for her to say you assaulted her,“ he said.
According to Sellars's account in the class-action suit, as her trainer pulled the truck into a rest stop near Gallup, New Mexico, Sellars was able to grab her purse and jump out of the passenger door, just as a dispatcher called her on her cell phone to ask what her inquiries were about. The dispatcher told Sellars to call the police, which she did, and told her to stay in a hotel room for the night. The police arrived, and she went to Oklahoma City by bus, where she retrieved the rest of her belongings. As soon as Sellars stepped off the truck, she stopped being paid; throughout this time, according to allegations presented in the suit, her codriver remained on the road.
The morning after her escape, Sellars says she told someone in CRST human resources about what had happened, including more details than she'd given in her statement to the police. She was told the manager would ”look into it.“ She reported injuries to her neck and back and sought medical treatment. She left CRST shortly thereafter. After her various frustrating interactions with human resources, Sellars called CRST's group president and one of his deputies to talk about her sexual-harassment complaints.
”What are you going to do when they [harassing male drivers] kill one of these women?“ Sellars asked, according to the class-action complaint.
”Well,“ she said the group president replied, ”we'll deal with that when it happens.“
Sellars decided to join the class action after the company pressured her not to speak with an attorney about the harassment, she says. She has begun counseling, but has difficulty sleeping for more than three or four hours at a time. She has still not learned what, if any, outcome there was of her complaints.
”I just really don't want it to happen to any other girls,“ she says. ”Someone is going to get hurt.“
Additional reporting by Sharon J. Riley. This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
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