I came across this case from 2018 in which the EEOC sued a company because it knew one of its independent contractors had harassed one of its employees but did not take any action. The independent contractor harassed another employee and the EEOC sued. This is a reminder that companies can be liable for the actions of independent contractors.
EEOC Sues Prime, Inc. For Sexual Harassment
Trucking Giant Failed to Prevent Verbal Abuse and Threats Against Female Driver, Federal Agency Charges
ST. LOUIS – New Prime Trucking, Inc., one of the nation’s largest trucking companies, violated federal law when it failed to take adequate steps to prevent the sexual harassment of a female truck driver, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the company, which does business as Prime, Inc., knew one of its independent contractor drivers, Eric Weekley, sexually harassed at least one female driver trainee. 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 co-drivers. When Weekley asked Melinda Huerta, a new Prime driver, to work as his co-driver, Prime allowed the match but did not warn Huerta about Weekley’s past misconduct or warn Weekley that he must not harass Huerta while she worked as his co-driver. The EEOC alleges that during the six weeks Weekley and Huerta drove together, 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.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects workers from sexual harassment and discrimination. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. New Prime, Inc., Civil Action No. 6:18-cv-3177-SWH) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation resolution through the agency’s conciliation process. The EEOC’s suit seeks monetary and injunctive relief for Huerta as well as injunctive relief to prevent future harassment of Prime employees.
“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 on 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.”
James R. Neely, Jr., director of the EEOC’s St. Louis District, said, “Sexual harassment in the workplace is not new, but in this age of #MeToo, no company can bury its head in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening. Employers must take steps to protect their workers from this sort of inexcusable misconduct.”
According to company information, Prime is one of the nation’s largest refrigerated, flatbed, and tanker carriers. It is based in Springfield, Mo., and employs over 2,000 persons. Prime provides truck-freight services to customers in Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
On Monday, the EEOC reconvened its Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace with new witnesses and testimony on the workplace harassment problem. In 2015 and 2016, the Commission set up the task force to explore ways to combat this national menace. In June 2016, the task force co-chairs, EEOC Commissioner Feldblum and Commissioner and now-Acting Chair Lipnic, issued a final report that laid out a road map for “rebooting” harassment prevention in our nation’s workplaces.
Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is also one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.