More than 100 female employees of one of the largest truck driving companies in the nation, based in the Midwest, have complained of unwanted sexual advances from male drivers during training rides across the country. The women gave detailed accounts to a federal agency of how they faced groping and sexual assault in the trucks and how receiving a passing grade depended on their reactions to the advances.

Given the number of women who have come forward complaining of sexual harassment at the trucking company, it was anticipated that a workplace discrimination judgment would soon follow. Unfortunately, the class action suit has backfired and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s investigative tactic has become the focus of the courts. In fact, the only case that has ever reached a jury since 2005 is that of a California woman who filed her own lawsuit and was awarded $1.5 million.

The EEOC brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company but was hit by a court ruling that set a new standard for class actions suits for the workplace. According to the ruling, before the EEOC can file a lawsuit of employees making similar allegations, they have to investigate the evidence in each case and try to settle the matter. If they fail to do so, the EEOC may risk having the case dismissed.

This ruling comes as a blow to Midwest states, as it leaves the women facing the emotional trauma of aggressive sexual conduct without any compensation for either their lost wages or the distress they have been through.

The agency is already struggling with limited resources and this new ruling may hinder its ability to provide justice to those violated in the workplace. If nothing else, it will delay justice for those who have already suffered for so long. They already investigate 100,000 cases a year and recovered $450 million for employees in 2011.

Though the federal court district doesn’t cover California, the ruling could have implications nationwide on how the agency deals with workplace harassment suits.

Source: Albany Times Union, “Trucker harassment class-action suit backfires,” Ryan J. Foley, April 6, 2012