Female attorneys and staff at the Cook County Public Defender's Office recently filed a federal lawsuit alleging that they have been subject to repeated and ongoing sexual harassment by male detainees in the Cook County Jail. The lawsuit claims that the Cook County Sheriff and Cook County Public Defender were aware of the harassment and did little to stop it.
Female Cook County correctional officers and sheriff's office employees filed similar lawsuits a few days later. The correctional officers' lawsuit describes the situation in Cook County Jail as "so severe and pervasive and so consistently traumatizing as to make the jail an objectively abusive and hostile workplace for women."
All three lawsuits describe similar harassing behavior: detainees have exposed themselves, made graphic and threatening sexual comments, groped female staff, and engaged in a wide variety of other harassing behaviors. The lawsuits also claim that the harassment has continued largely unabated for years, despite repeated reports and complaints from female employees.
What is Sexual Harassment in Illinois?
Sexual harassment under Illinois law includes:
- Making submission to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other sexual conduct a condition of employment; or
- Making submitting to or rejecting such conduct the basis for employment-related decisions; or
- Conduct that substantially interferes with the individual's work or creates an "intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment."
People commonly think of sexual harassment as occurring between a manager and a person who reports to them. But it is also possible for a customer, client or coworker to be the harasser. In the King County Public Defender's sexual harassment lawsuit, for example, many of the accused harassers were clients of the Public Defender's Office.
Sexual harassment can occur between people of different genders (a man harassing a woman or a woman harassing a man). It can also occur between people of the same gender.
Illinois Sexual Harassment Claims
All Illinois employers are responsible for creating a safe working environment that is free of sexual harassment.
People often don't report sexual harassment due to a fear of retaliation. Retaliation can include things like being fired or passed over for promotion due to making a sexual harassment complaint. Retaliation is illegal under both Illinois state law and U.S. federal law, but it still occurs. For example, the Cook County Public Defenders' sexual harassment lawsuit claims that many female employees did not file complaints due to their fear of retaliation.
If you believe you have been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace or retaliated against by your employer for reporting sexual harassment, there may be a number of different options available to you.
Compensation in sexual harassment cases can potentially include financial damages for wrongful termination, lack of advancement, or lost work. In some sexual harassment cases, punitive damages may also be awarded. Punitive damages are a penalty that is designed to deter future sexual harassment.
An experienced sexual harassment attorney can help you understand your options.