During the fiscal year 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received nearly 13,000 sexual harassment complaints. In almost 75 percent of these cases, either the alleged victim or the EEOC lost interest in the case (mostly the latter), and it was never resolved. In other words, thousands of women and men are sexually harassed on the job, and in many cases, the EEOC takes little action on their behalf.
So, there is a very good chance your sexual harassment complaint will wind up with a Chicago employment attorney. When that happens, what should you expect?
Types of Sexual Harassment in Illinois
In general terms, sexual harassment includes any situation in which one person uses sex as a weapon or as a form of leverage. In addition to the thousands of reported cases, many others go unreported, possibly because the alleged victims fear reprisal or possibly because they feel that they have nowhere to turn. The specific types of harassment in Illinois are:
- Quid Pro Quo: This type of harassment most often occurs between a supervisor and a subordinate employee. In the movies, it is often portrayed as romantic when the shy boss asks the pretty intern to discuss a possible promotion over dinner. But in the real world, such behavior is inappropriate and also patently illegal. Supervisors cannot base any entry or exit-level decisions, including promotions and demotions, on anything sexual, even in part.
- Hostile Environment: Sometimes, this type of harassment involves two employees; for example, a male employee may make repeated sexual jokes or use a pinup girl as his computer wallpaper. Other times, supervisors create a hostile environment for one or more employees, often because they feel as though they can get away with such behavior.
From both a legal and practical viewpoint, alleged abusers should always take their complaints to a supervisor, if at all possible. Sometimes, the complaint alone is sufficient to stop the behavior. But generally, the employer will investigate the complaint. If the alleged victim disagrees with the outcome, perhaps because the employer said the complaint was meritless or because the employer took insufficient corrective action, it is time to go to the next level and an Illinois court.
Some Legal Defenses to Chicago Sexual Harassment Cases
Recent allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein have cast light on the sex addiction defense. Alleged perpetrators claim that the addiction left them not in control of their actions and they are therefore not responsible for damages. But status is never a defense to conduct. Alcoholism is not a defense to DUI and drug addiction is not a defense to drug possession. Fundamentally, this argument is an attempt to revive the old “irresistible impulse” defense, which Congress and most states outlawed in the 1980s.
Furthermore, the conduct must only be objectively subjectively offensive. If the alleged victim convinces the jurors that the harassment s/he endured in Illinois was unreasonable, damages are appropriate.
One final note is that, in Chicago hostile environment cases, there must be a pattern of conduct. One rude comment or leering stare, however uncomfortable it is, is normally not actionable.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
Workplace sexual harassment is very prominent in Illinois. For a confidential consultation with an aggressive employment law attorney in Chicago, contact the Law Office of Mitchell Kline. We routinely handle cases in Cook County and nearby jurisdictions.