Sexual Harassment Claims


It happened to me: A Real Life Story


I think I am being sexually harassed at work, how do I prove it?


Sexual harassment exists when an employee experiences:
(1) Sexual verbal or physical conduct;
(2) Unwelcome by the individual alleging sexual harassment;
(3) Having the purpose or effect of either:
(a) substantially interfering with the individual's work performance; or
(b) creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.


There are two forms of sexual harassment: Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment.



What does "Quid Pro Quo" sexual harassment look like?


Quid Pro Quo is a form of sexual harassment where an employee's refusal to submit to their employer's sexual demands or inappropriate conduct can form the basis for termination or employment decisions taken against the employee.



What does "Hostile Work Environment" sexual harassment look like?


"Hostile Work Environment" sexual harassment involves a pattern of sexual misconduct by a co-worker that has is intended or results in "substantially interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment."



How do I show that sexual harassment created a hostile work environment or affected my ability to work?


This can be done in several ways. For example, you can introduce evidence about events at the office, the context in which the comments were made, the nature and frequency of the comments or behavior, or any complaints made to your supervisor or boss.



How do I show that my employer knew what was going on?


In Illinois, the employer will be held responsible for any harassment done by a supervisor or manager, even if the employer did not know about the harassment.



My employer has fewer than 15 employees -- is there anything I can do?


Unlike other discrimination, an employer is liable for sexual harassment in Illinois even if it employs only one employee.



Can I file a claim against my co-worker if he is not my boss or supervisor?


No. Your employer (i.e. a supervisor or manager) must be made aware of the sexual harassment. The employer must then take reasonable action to correct the behavior or the employer will be held responsible for the sexual harassment.



I complained to my employer and they reprimanded the harasser. Can I still file a claim?


Yes, depending on whether or not your harasser was your supervisor or manager. If that is the case, you may still bring a claim under Illinois law. If s/he were your co-worker, the court will look at the reasonableness of your employer's handling of the situation.



What if my harasser is also a woman?


This does not matter because same-sex sexual harassment is recognized in Illinois.



Is one incident of sexual harassment sufficient basis for a claim?


One incident is generally not sufficient for a claim of hostile work environment harassment. However, quid pro quo harassment could possibly be proven with only a single incident if the act was severe and extensive.



What if the harassment has been going on for a long time?


You should act as soon as possible. Illinois requires you to file within 180 days of the last incident of harassment. If you do not file within 180 days, the charge will be dismissed. Your employer must answer the allegations within 60 days or risk an automatic judgment in your favor. For a claim of "hostile work environment" sexual harassment, you can bring in events or behavior that occurred outside of the 180 day time limit, as long as one of the events is within the 180 day period.



Can I get damages for emotional distress?


If the emotional distress is because of the sexual harassment at work, you must file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR), which allows for emotional distress damages in the term "actual damages" found in the statute.


You may bring a claim for emotional distress directly to court without going through the IDHR if your emotional distress is not related to a discrimination claim. In that case, every part of your emotional distress claim needs to be shown to be independent of the sexual harassment claim.



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