Practice Areas

Frequently Asked Questions About Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex-discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature…when submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions…or such conduct has the purpose or effect of…creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”

Yes, in Illinois, sexual harassment and other discriminatory conduct is illegal under the Illinois Human Rights Act. The law is enforced by the Illinois Department of Human Rights. The Act defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when 1) submission to such conduct is either expressed or suggested, 2) submission or rejection of the conduct by an employees is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting that employee, or 3) such conduct interferes with employee’s job performance or creates and intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

In higher education, any unwelcome advance or request for sexual favors made by an executive, administrative staff or faculty member to a student or any conduct of a sexual nature exhibited by such person(s) toward a student, when such conduct substantially interferes with the students’ educational performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you believe you have been discriminated against, you must file your charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights before 180 days have passed, even if you are using union grievance procedures or other methods to solve the problem. You can always withdraw your charge if the union or other method workers to your satisfaction.

Because employee benefits-raises, promotions, better working hours, etc., are directly inked to compliance with sexual advances, only someone in a supervisory capacity (with the authority to grant such benefits) can engage in Quid Pro Quo harassment. For example, a supervisor may promise an employee a raise if she goes on a date with him, or a manager may tell an employee she will fire him if he does not go to bed with her.

Hostile Environment harassment can be created by anyone in the work environment, supervisors, other employees or customers. Hostile environment harassment of a sexual nature, unwelcome sexual materials, or even unwelcome physical contact in the work environment. Cartoons or posters of a sexual nature, vulgar or lewd conduct, unwanted touching or fondling all fall into this category. However, this type of conduct must occur on a regular basis.

The law provides that you may recover damages from your employer once you have proved that you were deprived of a job benefit because you refused to comply with your supervisor’s sexual demands. But before you can recover from your employer, you must demonstrate that the harasser is someone with authority who can affect your employment opportunities. You may also have to prove that the sexual conduct was unwelcome.

You may show that the conduct was unwelcome by showing:

  1. emotional distress;
  2. deteriorating job performance
  3. you avoided the harasser;
  4. you told friends and/or family of the harassment;
  5. you told the harasser or other company representatives of the harassment;
  6. and/ or absence of evidence showing conduct was welcome or encouraged.

If the demand for sexual favors is made by a co-worker with no power to affect your employment opportunities, you cannot claim quid pro quo harassment. However, you can claim hostile work environment harassment and an employer may be held liable for the conduct of its employee if the employer knew or should have known of the employee’s conduct and failed to take prompt remedial action to stop the harassment.

Here are some steps to take if you are being sexually harassed on the job:

SAY NO CLEARLY– Inform the harasser that his/her attentions are unwanted. Make clear you find the behavior offensive. If it persists, write a memo to the harasser asking him to stop; keep a copy.

DOCUMENT THE HARASSMENT– Write down each incident including date, time and place. Detail what happened and include your response. Keep a copy at home. This information will be useful if you need to take legal action.

DOCUMENT YOUR WORK– Keep copies of performance evaluations and memos that attest to the quality of your work. The harasser may question your job performance in order to justify his/her behavior.

LOOK FOR WITNESSES AND OTHER VICTIMS– You are probably not the first person who has been mistreated by this individual. Ask around; you may find others who will support your charge. Two accusations are much harder to ignore.

EXPLORE COMPANY CHANNELS– Use any grievance procedures or channels detailed in your employee handbook. If you are a member of a union, get your union steward involved right away.

FILE A COMPLAINT– If the sexual harassment does not stop after notifying the harasser or if you are not satisfied with your employer’s efforts to resolve the situation, you can pursue a legal remedy by filing a sexual harassment charge with the E.E.O.C.

There are several types of damages you can recover if your are successful. For example:

  1. receive an order demanding the harassment stop;
  2. recover lost wages and other job-related losses (i.e. promotions, or favorable work status you lost because of the sexual harassment);
  3. obtain compensation for personal injuries (i.e. physical, mental and emotional injuries);
  4. obtain punitive damages against the harasser(s) and/or company;
  5. recover attorneys’ fees and costs.

In Illinois you must file a charge of sexual harassment (discrimination) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the alleged act(s) of sexual harassment or 30 days after receiving notice that the Illinois Department of Human Rights has terminated its processing of the charge, whichever is earlier.

If the EEOC fails to reach a finding within 180 days of filing a charge, you must request that a “Notice of a right to sue” letter be issued.

A lawsuit claiming sexual harassment (discrimination) under Title VII must be filed within 90 days of the issuance of the “Right to Sue” letter from the EEOC.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Procedures and filing requirements vary from state to state. Failure to follow the required time periods may cause you to lose your rights to seek a remedy for sexual harassment.

You are not required to hire an attorney in order to file a sexual harassment charge with the EEOC or the Illinois Human Rights Commission. However, considering the legal complexities and documentation requirements of federal discrimination laws, it is advisable to retain a qualified attorney as soon as possible after you experience sexual harassment on the job.

Once your employer knows or should have known about the harassment, they have the duty to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to end the harassment. The employer’s response must be reasonably calculated to end the harassment. If earlier discipline did not end the harassment, more severe action must be taken.

A company can minimize the number of sexual harassment claims by:

Drafting and publicizing an anti-sexual harassment policy.
Implementing a procedure for employees to follow if they feel they have been the victim of sexual harassment, and;
Conducting company wide sexual harassment prevention training.

Some important facts to know about sexual harassment include:

The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker or a non-employee.

The victim does not have to be the personal harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.

The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

Sexual harassment can occur of business premises if the activity is related to employment (i.e. company picnic, dinner, etc.).

If you believe that you have been the victim of sexual harassment, contact our office, anytime, at 800-437-2571 for a free, no obligation consultation with one of our qualified employment law attorneys to determine if you have a potential sexual harassment lawsuit or use our convenient Confidential Contact Form.

Request a
Free Consultation