The plaintiff in this case filed a complaint about unwanted sexual advances.
In this case, The Sangamon Country Sheriff’s Department, Petitioner-Appellant v. The State of Illinois Human Rights Commission; Donna Feleccia, and Ron Yanor, Respondents-Appellees, 875 N.E.2d 10 (2007) 375 Ill. App.3d 834, No. 4-06-0445, the Sheriff’s department appealed an order of the Illinois Human Rights Commission that found the department strictly liable for Ron Yanor’s sexual harassment of Donna Feleccia. The court reversed.
The facts of this case are that in 1999 Feleccia filed a discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Commission stating that she had been sexually harassed as retaliatory punishment and harassed in a way that created a hostile work environment.
In 2000, the Commission filed a four count complaint against the Sheriff’s Department that stated, among other things, that Feleccia said no to a request by Yanor to have sex with him and that Yanor wrote a fictitious letter to her that indicated she may have come into contact with a sexually transmitted disease and that the Department harassed her in retaliation for saying no to unwanted sexual advances.
Further unwanted sexual behavior on Yanor’s part was outlined, and included kissing Feleccia and delivering a coffee cup with candy in it to her home. All these actions, in sum, created a hostile work environment and the count further alleged the Department was strictly liable for Yanor’s actions because he was a manager.
The Sheriff’s Department said they were not strictly liable and replied by saying that the woman had not used the complaint procedure in place, and that she had not reported any of the incidents that happened outside the workplace. Furthermore, the Department had taken disciplinary action against Yanor for writing the fictitious letter about sexually transmitted diseases. Yanor and the woman settled, but the case remained in place against the Sheriff’s Department.
There was a hearing in this case with an Administrative Law Judge, who issued a decision recommending that the sexual harassment and retaliation claims be dismissed with prejudice. He suggested that the woman had not been able to prove a prima facie case of sexual harassment, because she did not show the man’s conduct had the intent or effect of interfering with her work performance or creating a hostile work environment.
The judge further suggested that she had also not proven the retaliation claim, as the record did not show any protests relating to sexual harassment. He also pointed out that the man did not have supervisory duties over the woman, and that the 180-day timeframe for reporting sexual harassment claims was not met. The Human Rights Commission disagreed with the decision made by the administrative law judge.
In fact, the Commission said the incidents cited by the woman were sexual harassment by a supervisor with a physical threat of force and a forcible request for sex in a motel. They found that Yanor’s conduct and the forged letter relating to sexually transmitted diseases did interfere with the woman’s work and created a hostile workplace. In short, they found there was sexual harassment and that the Sheriff’s Department was strictly liable for the man’s behavior because he had the authority to affect the woman’s work conditions due to his position. The Commission could not conclude the harassment was retaliatory.
Again, this is a very complex case dealing with allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. It also points out quite clearly that if there is a procedure in place for someone alleging harassment, workers need to follow the procedure and report any unwanted behavior. In this instance, the case was proven indirectly, but there was the real possibility that it could have gone either way.
If you think you are being sexually harassed at work, if the environment there is hostile and another’s behavior is offensive, do not waste any time wondering what to do about it. Call an experienced Chicago employment lawyer. A qualified attorney will have decades of practice and will know precisely what to do in situations that indeed may be classified as sexual harassment. Without a seasoned Chicago employment attorney to protect your rights, you may find the battle for workplace equity lost.
Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit Employmentlawcounsel.com.