A settlement between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Koch & Sons Trucking was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Brasel in the Minnesota federal court last week. The trucking company agreed to pay a former employee, Alana Nelson, $165,000 in back pay in addition to a separate private settlement and will apologize to Nelson. The settlement resolves a retaliation lawsuit filed by the EEOC on Nelson’s behalf in May 2019. Further, the settlement requires Koch & Sons to implement a written policy, which includes training employees, about preventing discrimination and retaliation.
Nelson began working for the carrier as a truck driver in July 2012 and was injured the following April at which point she was placed on leave for three months. Upon her return, Nelson failed a strength test developed by Cost Reduction Technologies Inc. (CRT) and she was fired three days later but was told that she could reapply for a job in the future.
Subsequently, Nelson filed an EEOC claim against Koch & Sons alleging the company’s firing was an act of gender discrimination. She then applied for re-employment with the defendant company in January 2014 and April 2014. In January, she was told that no local positions for truck drivers were available. In April, Nelson said the company told her that her application was on hold because of the pending EEOC complaint.
Before the litigation, the parties unsuccessfully attempted to settle the EEOC’s pre-litigation conciliation process. The agency then filed the lawsuit on Nelson’s behalf over the defendant’s retaliation in response to Nelson’s EEOC complaint.
“Refusing to hire someone solely because she has filed a charge with the EEOC is as clear a case of retaliation as you are ever going to see,” said Gregory Gochanour, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago.
Julianne Bowman, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago, added, “Retaliation has a chilling effect that deters employees from coming forward to assert their rights and interferes with our mission to eradicate discrimination in the workplace. Addressing and remedying this type of conduct in the workplace is a core purpose of the agency.”
In August 2019, the agency filed a related class action lawsuit against Koch & Sons, specifically challenging the defendant company’s use of the CRT test. The EEOC said the test violates the sex discrimination law because it disproportionately screens out women who are qualified for truck driver positions at Koch.
Bowman said, “Employers cannot use a test that disproportionately excludes women unless they have proof that the test is actually related to one’s ability to do the job.”
“It is unfair to deprive qualified women of the opportunity to work in these jobs,” Gochanour added. “The EEOC will continue to enforce federal anti-discrimination laws against employers who use unlawful tests as part of their hiring process.”
The EEOC is seeking relief for a class of women who were fired because they failed the CRT Test and an injunction preventing Koch from continuing to use the test. The case is filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, Civil Action No. 0:19-cv-02148.
Retaliation may occur in the workplace when an employer punishes an employee for an action that is permitted by law, but which the employer wants to discourage. For example, an employer may retaliate against an employee who makes harassment or discrimination complaints, who reports fraud or other wrongdoing in the workplace, or who participates in an investigation within the workplace. Some employers also retaliate against employees who report workplace injuries to state or federal authorities. Lawyers in our Fraud section handle complaints involving employment law, including retaliation. For more information or to discuss a possible claim, contact Larry Golston, Leon Hampton or Lauren Miles in this section.