A female truck driver recently won a landmark court case that sets a precedent against discriminatory practices such as so-called “strength tests.”
After recovering from a workplace injury, Alana Nelson returned to Stan Koch & Sons Trucking in the Twin Cities only to be dealt a strength and fitness examination the company claimed she failed. Recognizing this practice favored men who are biologically more likely to possess increased strength, Nelson filed a grievance with Minnesota’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She was eventually awarded $165,000 in back wages and a judge required officials at the trucking outfit to apologize for what the court deemed discrimination and retaliation.
“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,” EEOC director Julianne Bowman reportedly said.
One of the striking aspects of this case is that Stan Koch & Sons Trucking had at least a pair of open CDL positions available when Nelson tried to get her job back. The company reportedly denied her application because of the EEOC grievance.
“The women who failed the (strength) test were qualified, experienced truck drivers who had successfully worked at other companies but were prevented from working at Koch, in effect, because of their gender,” EEOC regional attorney Gregory Gochanour reportedly said.
A practical outfit might have seen an opportunity to resolve the dispute and move forward. Instead, the court ruled measures were taken to discriminate against the woman trucker, knowing she didn’t have the physical strength to pass this rigged test. Adding insult to injury, the trucking company had reportedly used this maneuver to deter other qualified women CDL-holders from joining their ranks in the past. Stan Koch & Sons Trucking appealed the initial judgment against them to a federal court only to get slapped down even harder.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer ruled that Nelson was entitled to full fair compensation based on blatant gender discrimination. The federal judge also determined the so-called strength test disproportionally eliminated women from the workplace.
“Employers are allowed to use hiring screens and they are allowed to use physical abilities testing, when appropriate,” the EEOC’s Bowman reportedly said. “However, when a hiring screen has disparate impact on female applicants and employees, like the CRT test did at Koch, employers need to take a hard look at whether they can prove those tests are job-related and consistent with business necessity. The fact that a job requires some physical strength will not, by itself, justify the use of any particular physical ability test. The test has to actually fit the physical requirements of the job or be shown to predict an important job outcome.”
Following the landmark win for women’s rights in the trucking sector, the EEOC reportedly stated its agency would craft an order to prevent Stan Koch & Sons Trucking and other freight carriers from creating artificial barriers in the workplace.