679 F.3d 657 (8th Cir. 2012), 09-3764, E.E.O.C. v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc.

Docket Nº:09-3764, 09-3765, 10-1682.
Citation:679 F.3d 657
Opinion Judge:SMITH, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CRST VAN EXPEDITED, INC., Defendant-Appellee. Janet Boot, Intervenor Plaintiff, Remcey Jeunenne Peeples; Monika Starke, Intervenor Plaintiffs-Appellants, Equal Employment Advisory Council; Chamber of Commerce of the United States; Society for Human Resource Management; National Federa
Attorney:Matt J. Reilly, argued, Jeffrey R. Tronvold, on the brief, Cedar Rapids, IA, for appellants Remcey Jeunenne Peeples and Monika Starke. Susan Ruth Oxford, argued, Dori K. Bernstein and Jennifer S. Goldstein, on the brief, Washington, DC, for appellant EEOC. John H. Mathias, Jr., argued, Chicago, I...
Judge Panel:Before MURPHY, SMITH, and BENTON, Circuit Judges. MURPHY, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
Case Date:May 08, 2012
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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679 F.3d 657 (8th Cir. 2012)

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff-Appellant,

Janet Boot, Intervenor Plaintiff,

Remcey Jeunenne Peeples; Monika Starke, Intervenor Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

CRST VAN EXPEDITED, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

Equal Employment Advisory Council; Chamber of Commerce of the United States; Society for Human Resource Management; National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, Amici on Behalf of Appellee.

Nos. 09-3764, 09-3765, 10-1682.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 8, 2012

Submitted: May 7, 2012.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied June 8, 2012.[*]

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Matt J. Reilly, argued, Jeffrey R. Tronvold, on the brief, Cedar Rapids, IA, for appellants Remcey Jeunenne Peeples and Monika Starke.

Susan Ruth Oxford, argued, Dori K. Bernstein and Jennifer S. Goldstein, on the brief, Washington, DC, for appellant EEOC.

John H. Mathias, Jr., argued, Chicago, IL, Kevin James Visser, Thomas D. Wolle, Cedar Rapids, IA, James T. Malysiak, Robert T. Markowski, Sally K. Sears Coder, Chicago, IL, on the brief, for appellee.

Before MURPHY, SMITH, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

SMITH, Circuit Judge.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit in its own name against CRST Van Expedited, Inc. (CRST), alleging that CRST subjected Monika Starke " and approximately 270 similarly situated female employees" to a hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Starke and Remcey Jeunenne Peeples intervened in the EEOC-instituted action and individually pursued their respective hostile work-environment claims against CRST, as well as claims for unlawful retaliation under Title VII and Iowa state law.

The district court ruled in CRST's favor on a series of dispositive motions that collectively disposed of the entire action. The district court also awarded CRST $92,842.21 in costs and $4,467,442.90 in attorneys' fees and expenses, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k) and 28 U.S.C. § 1920, as a sanction for the EEOC's failure to reasonably investigate and conciliate in good faith its claims against CRST.

As set out below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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I. Background

This consolidated appeal concerns a sweeping employment-discrimination suit that the EEOC instituted against CRST, one of the country's largest interstate trucking companies. The EEOC alleged that CRST was responsible for severe and pervasive sexual harassment in its New-Driver Training Program (" Training Program" ). Because " we are reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment against [EEOC, Starke, and Peeples], we recite the facts in the light most favorable to [them]." Bonn v. City of Omaha, 623 F.3d 587, 589 (8th Cir.2010).

A. CRST's Business Model and Training Program

CRST is an interstate logistics and transit company that employs more than 2,500 long-haul drivers. CRST's business model relies on an efficiency measure known as " Team Driving." CRST operates the trucking industry's largest fleet of team-driven tractor trailers. Specifically, CRST assigns two drivers to a truck who alternate between driving and sleeping on-board in the truck's sleeper cab for as much as 21 days in order to maximize mileage and minimize stops.

Newly hired drivers must successfully complete CRST's Training Program before CRST permits them to drive full time for full pay as certified CRST drivers. The Training Program commences with a three-and-a-half day classroom component (" New-Driver Orientation" ) to orient the new drivers with CRST's methods and policies.

During new-driver orientation, CRST distributes to each trainee its " Professional Driver's Handbook" (" Driver Handbook" ), which contains an entire section devoted to its anti-harassment policy, as well as the procedures for reporting such harassment. Additionally, CRST orientation leaders orally reiterate CRST's written anti-harassment policy, explain to trainees how they can report harassment complaints, and present a video stressing that CRST will not tolerate sexual harassment. The Driver Handbook expressly forbids sexual harassment, as well as any form of retaliation against complainants of sexual harassment. It also instructs employees who endure or witness harassment or discrimination to immediately report the conduct to either an immediate supervisor or the Director of Human Resources. The Driver Handbook states that " [a]ll reports of harassment and/or discrimination will be handled in a confidential manner." CRST's charges its Human Resources Department (H.R.) with enforcing this anti-harassment policy. At New-Driver Orientation's conclusion, CRST has each trainee sign a written " Acknowledgment and Pledge Concerning Harassment and Discrimination," attesting to the facts that the trainee " received and read [CRST's] Policy Against Unlawful Harassment and Discrimination."

Following orientation, each trainee embarks on a 28-day, over-the-road training trip with an experienced, " Lead Driver," who familiarizes the trainee with CRST's Team Driving model and evaluates the trainee's performance on this maiden haul. At the conclusion of the trainee's 28-day training trip, the trainee's Lead Driver gives the trainee " a pass/fail driving evaluation" that superiors consider when determining whether to certify the trainee as a full-fledged CRST driver. But, under CRST's organizational structure, Lead Drivers lack the authority to hire, fire, promote, demote, or reassign trainees; CRST's Safety and Operations Departments make all final decisions concerning the trainees' employment. Still, in a responsive letter to the EEOC correspondence, H.R. Director James Barnes later

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described the Lead Driver-trainee relationship as " really no different than the role of supervisors in other industries and organizations."

B. CRST's Channels for Reporting Sexual Harassment

CRST accorded its trainees and team drivers multiple channels for reporting sexual harassment. Those channels included (1) CRST's " open-door policy," which encouraged all of its employees to approach their supervisors, any employee in the Operations or Safety Departments, or any manager about any issue; (2) toll-free phone numbers for fleet managers who were available around the clock; (3) Qualcomm, a device placed in every truck that transmits messages, similar to emails, directly to fleet managers; (4) H.R.'s nationwide toll-free number and local toll phone number, both of which CRST provided in the Driver Handbook's section on how to properly report sexual harassment; and (5) evaluation forms given to all trainees at the training trip's conclusion soliciting each trainee's feedback concerning his or her lead driver.1

C. Starke's Initiating Charge

On December 1, 2005, Starke filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Therein, Starke alleged that CRST " discriminated against [her] on the basis of [her] sex (female) in that [she] was subjected to sexual harassment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended." In the " Particulars" section of the charge form, Starke stated:

I was hired by the [CRST] on June 22, 2005[,] in the position of Truck Driver. Since my employment began with the Respondent I have been subjected to sexual harassment on two occasions by my Lead Trainers. On July 7, 2005, Bob Smith, Lead Trainer[,] began to make sexual remarks to me whenever he gave me instructions. He told me that the gear stick is not the penis of my husband, I don't have to touch the gear stick so often. " You got big tits for your size, etc...[.]" I informed Bob Smith that I was not interested in a sexual relationship with him. On July 14, 2005, I contacted the dispatcher and was told that I could not get off the truck until the next day. On July 18, 2005 [,] through August 3, 2005, David Goodman, Lead Trainer, forced me to have unwanted sex with him on several occasions while we were traveling in order to get a passing grade.

Upon receiving Starke's Charge, the EEOC notified CRST of the filing and instructed CRST to respond, on or before December 30, 2005, with " a written position statement on each of the allegations of the charge, accompanied by documentary evidence and/or written statements, where appropriate." The EEOC advised CRST to " include any additional information and explanation [it] deem[ed] relevant to the [Charge]." The EEOC sent CRST a corresponding, initial " request for information" asking that CRST " submit information and records relevant to the [charge]." The EEOC assured CRST that " [t]he following dates are considered to be the ‘ relevant period’ for the attached [r]equest for [i]nformation: January 2, 2005-November 2, 2005." The EEOC's initial request for information primarily concerned Starke's

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alleged harassment and did not seek information relating to other potential victims.

On December 21, 2005, CRST submitted its " position statement" to the EEOC and furnished the EEOC with all of the information that the EEOC demanded in the request for information. In its position statement, CRST denied discriminating against or harassing Starke. The company based this denial on its own internal investigation into Starke's claims against Lead Drivers Smith and Goodman. 2 CRST also disclosed the identity of two other female drivers, Lori Essig and Tamara Thiel, who, like Starke, had filed formal charges of discrimination with the EEOC against CRST.

D. The EEOC's Investigation and Reasonable Cause Determination

In...

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