EEOC files sexual harassment lawsuit against Prime

June 15, 2018

Mark Schremmer

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against New Prime Trucking, alleging that the Springfield, Mo.-based trucking company failed to take adequate steps to prevent the sexual harassment of a female truck driver.

The EEOC alleges that Prime created a hostile work environment for a female employee by allowing her to work with a driver they knew had sexually harassed another employee “without warning its employees about his prior harassment and otherwise failing to take prompt and effective remedial action to prevent and end his harassment of Prime’s female drivers.” The lawsuit was filed Wednesday, June 13, in U.S. District Court for Western Missouri.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Prime was notified that one of its independent contractor drivers, Eric Weekley, had sexually harassed a female driver trainee. The lawsuit claims that Prime stopped using Weekley as a trainer but allowed him to continue driving for the company and continued providing him with Prime employees to work as his co-driver.

Prime is accused of allowing Melinda Huerta to work as Weekley’s co-driver in 2016 without informing Huerta of his past conduct or warning Weekley that harassment would not be tolerated. The lawsuit alleges that Weekley continually talked about sex in graphic and violent terms and told Huerta she would lose her job and commercial driver’s license if she reported his behavior.

Huerta said Weekley told her that he wanted to work with somebody, make money and have sex at the same time. Huerta said she immediately told Weekley that she was not the girl for that.

She said Weekley repeatedly made crude comments, such as “I’m so horny I could pull over and (have sex with) a hole in a tree … My girlfriend likes to be choked. I bet you are a freak.”

The EEOC says the conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects workers from sexual harassment and discrimination.

“Every employer has an obligation to take adequate steps to prevent sexual harassment in their workplace, whether that workplace is an office, a kitchen, or in a truck,” said Andrea G. Baran, regional attorney for the EEOC’s St. Louis District. “When employers fail to take those steps, they fail all their workers and enable a cycle of abuse and sexual harassment to continue.”

The lawsuit is seeking monetary and injunctive relief for Huerta, as well as injunctive relief to prevent future harassment of Prime employees.

Attempts to reach Prime for comment were unsuccessful.

Prime was ordered to pay $3 million in 2016 to a group of women who lost out on job opportunities due to the company’s hiring and training policies.

The EEOC previously instituted a civil action against Prime in 2011 on behalf of more than 60 women who were victims of the company’s unlawful discriminatory hiring policy.

Following a 2003 sexual harassment suit in which another female driver was awarded $95,000 by a jury after she said her trainer sexually harassed her and held her against her will, the company instituted a “same-sex trainer policy” in 2004, which required all applicants who did not meet Prime’s experience requirements to receive over-the-road training by a trainer of the same gender. A federal court in Missouri ruled that the policy discriminated against women.

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Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.