BNA Daily Labor Report: $2.4 Million Penalty in Sex Discrimination Case

January 26, 2009: A federal district court in Ohio Jan. 22 gave final approval to a $2.43 million consent decree settling an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit alleging that a regional trucking firm unlawfully discriminated against women in hiring for driver and loading dock jobs (EEOC v. Pitt Ohio Express Inc., N.D. Ohio, No. 06-747, consent decree approved 1/22/09).

At a Jan. 22 fairness hearing, Judge Lesley Wells of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio verbally approved a five-year consent decree between EEOC and Pitt Ohio Express, which the court had tentatively approved last fall (212 DLR A-1, 11/3/08). No written objections were filed to the proposed decree, and no one voiced any objections at the Jan. 22 hearing, according to Jeffrey Stern, an EEOC trial attorney based in Cleveland.

The trucking firm admits no violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act under the settlement, which benefits a class of women who applied for, but were denied, jobs as drivers or dockworkers at Pitt Ohio Express terminals in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati between Sept. 1, 1997, and Oct. 19, 2008. The decree calls for preferential hiring of qualified class members who are still interested in the jobs, as well as equal employment opportunity training for Pitt Ohio Express supervisors, managers, and human resources personnel.

Notices, Forms Sent to Potential Class Members.

Stern, the EEOC attorney, said the commission had sent out 811 notices and claims forms to potential class members after preliminary approval of the decree in October and that EEOC has received about 230 completed claims forms. Potential class members have until Feb. 16 to submit completed claims forms so more are likely to come in, Stern told BNA Jan. 23. EEOC then will review the claims, decide which are valid, and assess the merits of the claimants to determine who may be qualified for placement on the “job offer list” for Pitt Ohio, Stern said.

“We are pleased that this settlement will provide appropriate relief for the people who have been harmed,” said Debra Lawrence, EEOC acting regional attorney in Baltimore. “We are likewise glad that this employer is taking proactive steps to ensure a discrimination-free workplace in the future by addressing the problems that led to the lawsuit.”

“Pitt Ohio is pleased to put this legal dispute behind it through a settlement, reflected in the consent decree entered in federal court,” the company said in a Jan. 23 statement. “The settlement involves no admission of liability by Pitt Ohio. Pitt Ohio has progressive employment practices and programs which value and promote diversity and inclusion through the company.”

The case originated with an EEOC charge filed by Pamela Moher, who applied for driver jobs with Pitt Ohio during the 1990s but was rejected. After EEOC filed suit in 2006, Moher intervened as a plaintiff. She reached a separate $570,000 settlement of her discrimination claims, including $305,000 in attorneys' fees and costs. Under her individual settlement, Moher will not seek employment with Pitt Ohio but she remained eligible for additional monetary relief under the EEOC consent decree.

Decree Includes ‘Priority Hiring.'

The decree provides that within 30 days of final court approval, Pitt Ohio will deposit $2.43 million into a settlement fund for eligible class members, to be administered by an EEOC-selected outside firm.

The decree provides that Pitt Ohio must extend at least 40 offers of employment to class members, including 26 driver positions and 14 dockworker jobs.

Two categories of class members are eligible for “compensatory damages” from the fund after submitting releases, claims forms, and completed questionnaires, according to the decree. “Claimants” are women whom EEOC determines applied for, but were not hired, as drivers or dockworkers at the company's four Ohio terminals during the 11-year period covered by the decree. EEOC will determine how much each “claimant” shall receive, with a minimum award of $1,000 each.

EEOC also will designate “offer eligible claimants,” rejected female applicants whom the commission determines are qualified under Pitt Ohio's current hiring criteria for jobs as drivers and dockworkers and who remain interested in working for the company. Those claimants will be entitled to payments of at least $20,000 each and “priority hiring consideration,” according to the decree. Disagreements between EEOC and Pitt Ohio regarding whether a class member is eligible for hire will be sent to mediation, according to the decree.

After such disputes are resolved, Pitt Ohio will place those with “priority hiring consideration” on a “job offer list” at the terminal of the claimant's choice. When future driver or dockworker job vacancies occur, the company will consult the job offer list, invite as many “job eligible claimants” as it deems appropriate to interview, and offer employment to “job eligible claimants” before considering applicants outside the class, the decree provides.

The decree provides that Pitt Ohio must extend at least 40 offers of employment to class members, including 26 driver positions and 14 dockworker jobs. If at least 30 hires do not result from the company's initial job offers to class members, EEOC will provide Pitt Ohio with the names of additional “offer eligible claimants” and Pitt Ohio “shall in good faith make additional offers” until 30 women are hired or the five-year decree expires, whichever occurs earlier.

Class members who are hired will receive “rightful place instatement,” receiving seniority rights and other employment benefits based on the date they originally applied to Pitt Ohio, the decree provides. Among other steps, Pitt Ohio must designate an in-house “ombudsperson” to informally resolve workplace issues that may arise from women filling the driver and dockworker jobs.

Debra Lawrence of EEOC's Baltimore office and Jeffrey A. Stern of EEOC's Cleveland office represented the commission. Bruce Elfvin of Elfvin & Besser in Cleveland represented Moher. Terrence H. Murphy of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Pittsburgh represented Pitt Ohio Express.

By Kevin P. McGowan

Click here to read the text of the consent decree.

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