You’ve probably heard some of the reverse horror stories about sexual harassment training: A role-playing scenario goes too far, resulting in what one of the role-players experiences as actual harassment; some well-meaning but inexperienced trainer distributes a list of sexually charged terms that should NEVER be used — except that now the organization has at least semi-officially used them.

Well, here’s another one that involves training and sexual harassment in a way that’s both unusual and possibly disturbing for employers.

A female driver trainee for the New Prime trucking company complained that a male trainer sexually harassed her, and the company was found responsible in court.

Quite properly not wanting this kind of thing to recur, the company put its foot down: From then on, driver trainees would get instruction only from trainers of their own gender. No more male-female training pairings in that cab.

Unexpected results
Clearly, the company was taking no chances. So the new method should have achieved good results. Shouldn’t it?

Ah, but there was another problem. The trucking company had plenty of male trainers, but only a few female ones. This meant that any female applicant for a driver job had to wait — as long as 18 months, as it happened — for a female trainer. As a result, women had a disproportionately hard time getting hired as drivers.

Now, a federal judge in Missouri, ruling in an EEOC lawsuit against the trucking company, has come out against the policy of gender separation during training. Such separation adds up to discrimination against female applicants, the judge said.

“Employers should prevent sexual harassment through training and strict enforcement of anti-harassment policies, not by segregating male and female employees,” an EEOC official said.

Separate but equal doesn’t exist
So what’s all this mean for employers that aren’t trucking companies, and don’t have to coop men and women up in a small space for a relatively long time in order to train them?

Simply this: Separate but equal is an idea whose time passed long ago. Any kind of training — be it about sexual harassment, how to attach a nut to a bolt, or how to manage a department — has to be afforded to all eligible employees on the same footing. Don’t make gender-related assumptions about either sex as you arrange and deliver the training.

Cite: EEOC v. New Prime Inc.

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