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Cedar Rapids Trucking Company Wins Big Legal Check from Federal Agency

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A federal court in Cedar Rapids has ordered the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pay millions in legal fees to a local trucking company. And it's believed to be the largest fee award against the EEOC ever.

U.S. District Judge Linda Reade, Northern District of Iowa, ruled the federal agency must pay nearly $4.7-million dollars to CRST Van Expedited Inc. The Cedar Rapids-based trucking company prevailed in a nearly six-year legal battle over sexual harassment claims the court ruled were mainly bogus.

Dave Rusch, CRST President and CEO, said companies nationwide were watching the progress of the EEOC v. CRST because it involves class action lawsuits. The federal claim was the Cedar Rapids company showed a pattern of ignoring sexual harassment of employees. It took years of legal battles, but the judge's ruling on legal fees owned by the government could signal the beginning of the end of the case.

The EEOC took the trucking company to court in 2007 based on the claims of a single female employee of harassment by male drivers or trainers. The federal agency eventually claimed more than 270 women employed by CRST endured similar on-the-job harassment. But CRST successfully argued in court the EEOC never followed federal law in making a single complaint into a class action lawsuit.

Eric Baker, general counsel for CRST, said "before they bring a claim, they must investigate a claim for each individual making a claim under Title 7. Then they have to try to conciliate those claims."

CRST eventually settled the original complaint for $50,000. More than 250 other claims got tossed out. Federal law basically says losers pay legal bills in such cases and the judge awarded the trucking company $4.5-million in 2012. The EEOC appealed and the judge eventually got the case back and ruled again last week that the legal fees decision stands. With interest, the amount increased to nearly $4.7-million dollars.

Baker said the company has spent nearly $12-million dollars defending itself over the years. But CRST officials consider it money well spent.

"The EEOC position was we tolerated sexual harassment within the company. That simply isn't the case. That's an attack against our business model and we simply could not stand by," Baker said.

Christine Nazer, an EEOC spokesperson in Washington, D.C., said the agency was "deeply disappointed by the ruling." Nazer said the EEOC practice in such court cases is to appeal, but no decision was made yet.

Nazer would not say if they court decision on legal fees would have a "chilling" effect on the EEOC about bringing future sexual harassment cases. Another attorney for CRST doubted that would be the case because the crux of the ruling is the EEOC simply has to follow federal law in bringing worthwhile cases.

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