Trucking company with Kentucky site accused of discriminating against female applicants

A trucking company with Kentucky operations discriminated against women seeking jobs as drivers, fired one recruiter who wanted to hire females and made it intolerable for another to stay, a federal agency has charged.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the complaint against Gypsum Express Ltd. on Monday in federal court in Kentucky.

The company is based in New York, but has a terminal at Ghent, in Northern Kentucky. The agency filed the lawsuit in Kentucky because some of the alleged wrongdoing happened there.

The complaint alleges that Gypsum has engaged in illegal employment practices since at least 2014, subjecting a class of female applicants to discrimination by failing to hire them based on their sex.

At one time, the company had a policy that employees training drivers had to be the same sex as the trainees. It didn’t have any female trainers, however, so that kept company recruiters from hiring women who needed training, the EEOC charged.

The company continued to hire fewer women drivers even after the policy was no longer in effect, the lawsuit says.

The agency brought the complaint on behalf of two women who worked as driver recruiters for the company, Sherry Curtis at the Michigan City, Ind., terminal and Heather Isaacs at Ghent, as well as an unspecified number of female job applicants.

The complaint says that the president of Gypsum, John Wight, told the director of driver recruitment, Dale Zimmerman, words to the effect that he didn’t want to hire female drivers because “they just don’t work out.”

‘Blow off’ female applicants

Zimmerman told Curtis, Isaacs and other recruiters that if a woman approached them at a job fair, they were to “blow off” the potential applicant because Wight didn’t want women in trucks with male trainers, the lawsuit alleges.

Zimmerman also allegedly told recruiters to give female applicants false reasons why Gypsum wasn’t hiring them.

Still, when a female driving-school graduate applied for a job in August 2016 driving a truck and flatbed trailer for Gypsum, Curtis reported she was qualified and there was no reason not to hire her, according to the lawsuit.

Zimmerman told her the company couldn’t hire the woman, citing the lack of female trainers, the lawsuit says.

Curtis responded that she hoped the company would get female trainers soon, saying the company was missing opportunities.

“I am so afraid of any discrimination issues,” Curtis said at the time, according to the federal complaint.

‘Turn female trainees away’

A few months later, when Curtis asked when recruiters like her would be allowed to hire female driving trainees, a company-vice-president met her at work and fired her, the lawsuit charges.

The complaint says other women in the company also raised the issue of discrimination.

In September 2016, for instance, the head of corporate human relations, Adrienne Deloff, emailed several male company officials about an EEOC lawsuit alleging another trucking company, Prime Inc., had discriminated against women in hiring decisions.

Deloff advised that Gypsum should not continue to “turn all female trainees away,” according to the lawsuit.

The EEOC had alleged that Prime effectively denied jobs to female driver applicants under a same-sex training policy at one point while quickly assigning male trainers to male applicants.

The agency announced in May 2016 that Prime agreed to pay one woman $250,000 to settle the complaint and a total of $2.8 million in lost wages and damages to 63 other women.

“Being male or female is not relevant to whether a person can be a good truck driver,” James R. Neely Jr., head of the St. Louis EEOC office, said at the time. “While the trucking industry was desperately looking for drivers, Prime locked women out of their workforce rather than focus its efforts on preventing sexual harassment.”

‘Leave it alone’

At another point when Deloff asked superiors about Gypsum’s inability to hire women as trainee drivers, Deloff told another woman at the company that the response was effectively, “They are saying they won’t hire females. They said to leave it alone,” according to the lawsuit.

On June 2017 at the Kentucky terminal, a woman who had just finished truck-driving school applied for a job as a flatbed truck driver.

Isaacs repeatedly asked permission to process the woman’s application, but superiors did not respond.

Isaacs was told that managers were upset with her efforts to push for the woman to get a job and repeatedly told her to “let it go,” the lawsuit says.

The company acted quickly on requests by Isaacs to process male applicants, but often ignored her efforts to get applications from women processed, according to the lawsuit.

Isaacs ultimately felt compelled to quit rather than implement discriminatory hiring practices. She took a different job making $30,000 a year less, the lawsuit alleges.

Gypsum Express said in a statement from Les Mitchell, the human resources director, that the company does not comment on the details of pending lawsuits, but that it had been cooperating fully with the EEOC’s investigation for five years.

“Based on the information the company has presented in response to this investigation, we are disappointed that the commission has decided to file this lawsuit,” the statement said. “The company has always been an equal opportunity employer, and we look forward to presenting our defense in court.”

The company is a family of dedicated professionals, the statement said, “and we know that our committed drivers make the difference in delivering excellence to our customers.”

The company’s site says Wight started the operation in 1982 with one tractor-trailer, and it now has more than 650 trucks and more than 750 employees.

It addition to Kentucky, Gypsum has terminals in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia.

In addition to discrimination in hiring, the EEOC lawsuit charges that Gypsum retaliated against Curtis, made Isaacs take part in discriminatory practices and forced her to quit.

It seeks an order barring the company from employment discrimination; requiring it to put policies in place to provide equal opportunity; and to pay damages to Curtis, Isaacs and others to compensate them and punish the company.

Aimee McFerren, a senior attorney with the EEOC, said the agency couldn’t yet provide information on how many women could ultimately be part of the case.