Landmark Illinois Workers’ Compensation Ruling: Benefits Awarded For Mental Disability Due To Sexual Harassment

A majority of the Commission held that claimant’s mental disability due to sexual harassment was compensable, noting that the conditions causing claimant’s stress were greater in dimension than the day-to-day emotional strain and tension that all employees must experience.

Claimant alleged that she suffered mental trauma on the job as a result of sexual harassment by her supervisor. She testified that she was driven by her supervisor to an out of town office. While en route, the supervisor allegedly made inappropriate statements regarding claimant and her boyfriend. Two weeks later, claimant made another trip to the out-of-town office with her supervisor and, again, the supervisor made inappropriate personal comments He stated that he believed claimant did not lover her boyfriend and questioned her relationship with him. The supervisor subsequently queried claimant on several occasions regarding missing work, causing claimant to believe that her job was in jeopardy. Claimant filed an internal complaint with defendant, alleging sexual harassment by her supervisor. The complaint was processed, and defendant decided to terminate the supervisor. During the five-month period from the date of filing the complaint until the point of termination of the supervisor, the claimant was required to work in close proximity to and under the management of her supervisor.

The arbitrator awarded benefits, finding that the statements made by the supervisor and his subsequent actions caused a gradual deterioration of claimant’s mental processes and were the major contributory cause of her post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and depression. The arbitrator found that claimant incurred such mental disorders as a result of job stress and that the conditions causing the stress were greater dimension than the day-to-day emotional strain and tension that all employees experience.

Upon review, a majority of the Commission affirmed and adopted the decision of the arbitrator.

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