Labor & Employment

EEOC Class Action Backfires; 8th Circuit Sides with Defendant Facing 'Moving Target' of Discovery


A federal appeals court ruling has made it more difficult for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pursue large discrimination cases in the Midwest.

The ruling by the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals criticized the agency for waiting until discovery to investigate sexual harassment claims on behalf of 67 women in its class action against a trucking company. According to the Associated Press, the EEOC suit “has backfired and put the agency on trial.”

The story quotes management side lawyer Gerald Maatman Jr. The opinion is “incredibly significant,” he said. “It is a signal by the federal courts that the tactics the EEOC has been using over the last several years may be improper.”

The EEOC filed the suit against interstate trucking company CRST Van Expedited Inc. after receiving a complaint from Monika Starke of Azle, Texas, who claimed one of her trainers made inappropriate comments and another forced her to have sex to get a passing grade.

The EEOC first sued on behalf of 270 women, but U.S. District Judge Linda Reade of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said the agency used “a ‘sue first, ask questions later’ litigation strategy” and barred many of the claims. The EEOC appealed the dismissal of claims on behalf of 107 women, including 67 claims dismissed for failure to investigate and conciliate.

The appeals court opinion upheld most of Reade’s decision, but reinstated claims by Starke and and one other woman who said her trainer entered the cab wearing only his underwear, according to the AP account.

“There was a clear and present danger that this case would drag on for years as the EEOC conducted wide-ranging discovery and continued to identify allegedly aggrieved persons,” the appeals court said, quoting from Reade’s opinion. “The EEOC’s litigation strategy was untenable: CRST faced a continuously moving target of allegedly aggrieved persons, the risk of never-ending discovery and indefinite continuance of trial.”

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