Sexual harassment is a violation of basic human rights in Illinois. Despite the State's firm prohibition against this behavior, sexual harassment is unfortunately still rampant in a number of industries and workplaces statewide. Instances of this behavior often go unreported, as individuals who deal with harassers on the job may be reluctant to speak out in fear of retaliation or being victim-blamed. And understandably so, since sexual harassment is tightly embedded into the culture of many workplaces in Illinois.
This feeling of helplessness is only magnified in situations when powerful defendants are to blame for this behavior. Many victims shy away from filing a sexual harassment claim against major corporations and government agencies because they have one major and valuable resource: money, and lots of it. These organizations and entities are able to hire high-priced attorneys and have the funds to fight it out in court for extended periods of time.
However, the fact that a perpetrator has resources should not discourage you from filing a sexual harassment claim. Our lawyers have represented clients in some of the largest sexual harassment cases against large-scale organizations and government entities. Not only did they come out on top, but they got to prove that in today's time, no company, government entity, or employer is exempt from liability in sexual harassment cases.
You, as a victim of this misconduct, have the option of exercising your constitutional right to challenge the perpetrators of sexual harassment on your job - whether it be an employee, employer, or an institution - to prevent it from happening to you again or someone else.
For the purposes of this article, we will address (1) Illinois' sexual harassment laws, (2) the types of sexual harassment that ensues in the workplace, (3) and information to consider when filing a civil claim against a large-scale corporation or government entity in pursuance of a legal remedy.
Illinois Sexual Harassment Laws
Both state and federal law protects employees from sexual harassment on the job. Sexual harassment is considered a type of gender discrimination, which is outright condemned under the federal civil rights law, Title VII. State law protects employees from being subjected to harassment through the enforcement of the Illinois Human Rights Act.
According to the Human Rights Act, the following actions constitute sexual harassment:
Any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or (3) such conduct has the purpose of effect of substantially interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Employers are responsible for keeping their prospective work environment free from sexual harassment. These efforts may look different depending on the job. Some companies require employees to attend informative training sessions about how to report said behavior, and how to practice intolerance when witnessing this misconduct in professional settings. Others may merely provide a policy detailing what constitutes sexual harassment and the potential repercussions that may be imposed if the policy is violated.
Employers who fail to make any apparent strides to deter sexual harassment in a workplace may be in violation of state law.
Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment
The state of Illinois recognizes two types of sexual harassment in the workplace: quid pro quo harassment and harassment that breeds a hostile work environment.
Quid pro quo
This type of sexual harassment occurs when a superior offers sexual favors in exchange for something else. A promotion, raises, perks and other forms of preferential treatment are typically offered in these instances as a means to influence a worker to submit to these inappropriate favors.
In the event that you have given into these demands, it does not mean that you do not have a viable case. The crux of the feasibility of these cases rests on whether the sexual harassment occurred and that these actions were truly unwanted. There have been circumstances when individuals have been pressured to provide sexual favors in an effort to save their career. If you succumbed to pressure, do not let it discourage you from pursuing a case.
Hostile work environment
A hostile work environment is created when individuals in employment settings have perpetuated a pattern of unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. A wide range of actions could contribute to a hostile environment. It could include unwanted advances, offensive literature, foul or sexually demeaning language, inappropriate comments about an employee's appearance or demeanor, or any other behaviors that hinder a worker from feeling comfortable on the job.
Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim
If you believe that you have been subjected to sexual harassment and are contemplating filing a claim, there are a few steps you should take in preparation for doing so. It would be helpful to document the instances of sexual harassment, as well as the efforts you've made to resolve these issues with the company, organization, or entity responsible. Keeping copies of sexually explicit tangible items, like emails, texts, and photos, recording inappropriate verbal comments, and saving a defendant's response to your complaints are all vital pieces of information that may be relevant to your case. You may also wish to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR).
If an organization or government entity has yet to respond to the issue, or the harassment continues, your next option would be to contact an experienced Illinois sexual harassment attorney. From then on, a legal professional will assess your case, help you file a viable claim in the eyes of the law, and advocate for you in court for compensation for damages.
Damages are an attempt by the court to measure the extent of harm a plaintiff (a person who brings a personal injury case) has endured as a result of a defendant's (an individual, company, or institution being sued) actions. Victims of sexual harassment are generally entitled to all available legal remedies under tort law. The following damages can potentially be recovered by a victim of sexual harassment:
- Economic damages: these types of damages refer to compensation for economic losses. Tangible evidence of documents, transcripts, receipts, or any other valuable proof of expenses will be examined by a jury to determine a plaintiff's total amount of economic damages. The loss of employment ability, loss of wages, medical expenses, and other economic misfortunes that occurred as a result of the harassment are some of the damages that a victim may be awarded in a case.
- Non-economic damages: these types of damages are intangible losses that have harmed a plaintiff either emotionally or psychologically. The jury will consider all the facts and circumstances of a case before awarding non-economic damages. Examples of non-economic damages are emotional distress and pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages: these types of damages are awarded to prevent the sexual harassment exemplified in a plaintiff's case from happening to someone else. Typically, punitive damages are awarded when a defendant acted in a manner that was reckless, malicious or fraudulent towards the plaintiff.
Illinois Sexual Harassment Attorneys
The attorneys at Benassi & Benassi take sexual harassment and retaliation claims incredibly seriously. We've helped our clients pursue sexual harassment cases against major corporations like Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing and Combined Insurance Co. We've also helped our clients prevail in cases against governmental entities such as the City of Peoria. With the assistance of a skilled legal professional, you can finally obtain a peaceful and respectful work environment while holding perpetrators of sexual harassment accountable. Contact us today to get the justice you rightfully deserve.