In often graphic language, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued two subsidiaries of trucking conglomerate TFI International over what it said was discriminatory treatment of two gay maintenance employees who worked in Ohio.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on Sept. 15, lists TA Dedicated and TForce TL Holdings as defendants. TA Dedicated is a specialized truckload carrier, doing business as Transport America. TForce TL is an LTL carrier that does business as Transportation Enterprise Services. Both are owned by TFI (NYSE: TFII) and operate out of the same office in Eagan, Minnesota.
The EEOC said in the suit that it was in discussions with the companies to reach an agreement that would negate the need for litigation. The suit says the discussions began in March 2022 after the EEOC sent the companies a letter saying that it believed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 had been violated in the treatment of the two workers. But after discussions, “the EEOC was unable to secure from Defendants a conciliation agreement acceptable to the Commission,” leading to the federal lawsuit.
The two gay employees were hired to work as mechanics in the company’s North Jackson, Ohio, maintenance shop. Gary Pugh was hired in April 2018; Kristopher Neville was hired in December of the same year.
The company’s actions “subjected Neville and Pugh to an unlawful hostile work environment … because of sex orientation,” according to the lawsuit. “Defendants also unlawfully retaliated against Neville and Pugh for engaging in protected activity.”
The lawsuit describes a pattern of harassment that included not only the use of derogatory terms for gay men — spelled out explicitly in the suit — but physical violations, such as threats, inflicting damage to Neville’s car and defacing his uniform.
According to the suit, Neville reported the incidents to his shop manager, Shenard Gordon, who the suit says “repeatedly told Neville not to take his reports of harassment to human resources,” vowing instead to “take care of it himself.” “But the harassment continued and worsened,” the lawsuit said.
Neville did go to HR, the suit said, in April 2019. “But [the company] did not take effective action to stop the harassment or prevent it from occurring,” the lawsuit says. It adds that Pugh also made complaints to HR but did not see any action taken by Transport.
The suit says Gordon met with his staff and told them that “the next person” who complained to HR “could lose their job.”
A subsequent complaint made by Pugh to HR resulted in what the lawsuit said was a “he said, she said” situation that resulted in no action. An employee then went to HR to say that Pugh had grabbed him inappropriately, which Pugh denied.
“At that point, Pugh had been discriminated and retaliated against to the point where he reasonably felt compelled to resign,” the suit said. But before his two weeks’ notice was up, according to the suit, he was fired for “unprofessional conduct” after being called a “snitch.”
As for Neville, the suit says he also dealt with harassment that included being forced to paint curbs and poles in the rain and being accused of being a “narc.” His complaint to Ryan Winegardner of Transport HR resulted in a closed investigation, with Winegardner finding no evidence to substantiate Neville’s allegations.
Gordon and Winegardner then decided to fire Neville, the suit says.
In summing up its action, the EEOC said personnel at the companies involved “were on notice of the sex-orientation harassment because Neville and Pugh opposed it and complained about it, the harassment was open and obvious to supervisory personnel, and supervisory personnel participated in the harassment. Defendants failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sex-orientation harassment.”
An email requesting comment sent to a TFI attorney listed on the lawsuit had not been responded to by publication time.
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