In February, the 8th Circuit admonished the EEOC for pursuing a class action suit before conducting a proper investigation and engaging in conciliation. The case involved CRST Van Expedited, Inc., and its driver-training program. A number of female employees reported they were sexually harassed by male lead trainers while on cross-country trips.
In December, 2005, a female employee filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging that during her participation in the driver’s training program she was sexually harassed. During pre-complaint investigations, the EEOC identified five women who had filed charges with the agency. Based on this information the EEOC filed, a class action complaint alleging that, “other similarly situated female employees of CRST were also subject to sexual harassment and a sexually hostile and offensive work environment while working for CRST…” However, at the time the complaint was filed, the EEOC did not have a readily identifiable class of women.
The district court dismissed the case and instituted a $4.5 million attorney fee sanction against the agency. The district court’s primary reason for dismissing all claims was the agency’s failure to investigate the 270 claims that created the “class.” On appeal, the court overturned the dismissal as to three of the original plaintiffs and overturned the $4.5 million award, since CRST was no longer a prevailing defendant, an element required by federal statute to receive attorney’s fees.
This case illustrates that courts will not overlook the EEOC’s failure to adhere to the procedural guidelines set forth by Title VII’s pre-suit requirements. It seems as if the EEOC will no longer be able to bring class action suits when they have not taken the time to conduct a proper investigation and attempt concillation for each claimant. In addition, the court stated that discovery was not the proper method for establishing the “class” in a class action suit, “the class should be in existence and identified before the filing of the complaint.”
Gerald Maatman, Jr. Partner with Seyfarth & Shaw, LLP , told the San Francisco Chronicle, “It is incredibly significant. . . it is a signal by the federal courts that the tactics the EEOC has been using over the last several years may be improper.”
Business leaders all over the country believe this decisions signals a shift in the way the courts will view class action complaints. In addition, the case signals to the EEOC that class actions must be thoroughly investigated and identified before the filing of the complaint. This allows for a more efficient legal process that allows all parties to receive justice in an equitable and efficient manner.