The Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled that an employer is responsible for sexual harassment by an employee who happens to be a supervisor, even if the employee is not in that supervisor’s chain of command.
In other words, it is sexual harassment when a supervisor or manager makes advances towards any employee, not just one who works for the supervisor.
In Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department v. Illinois Human Rights Commission, the judge ruled on April 16, 2009 that the employer was strictly liable for any manager’s or supervisor’s actions.
Sangamon County is primarily a rural area, about 200 miles southwest of Chicago.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal anti-discrimination law, an individual is not a “supervisor” in a case unless he or she has the authority to affect the victim’s employment status directly.
However, under the Illinois Human Rights Act, no such restriction applies. The employer is liable for the conduct of every supervisor in the organization, towards each and every employee in the organization.
In this case, a female records clerk with the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department filed a complaint of sexual harassment and retaliation against the department. She alleged that a sergeant within the department, who was not her supervisor, was harassing her.
On appeal, the judge ruled that the employer had established a hostile work environment.
Interestingly enough, initially the suit was against both the male supervisor and the employer. The male supervisor, however, was dismissed from the case after settling out of court. This left the employer alone liable for his behavior.
The judge ruled that the employer was “strictly liable” for harassment (more…)
An Illinois trucking company was ordered to pay more than $1.1 million in a sexual harassment case, including use of “adult entertainment” in the workplace. According to the judge, the allegations of abuse from those in the company’s highest positions were true.
Custom Companies of Northlake, Illinois, was found to have committed sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In a 50-page decision, Judge Harry D. Leinenweber was sharply critical of the founder and CEO of the company, Perry Mandera. Leinenweber found that the CEO and other top managers practiced sexual harassment of female employees. These included evidence of repeated touching, sexually explicit comments and jokes, sexual advances, and a sexually charged atmosphere.” All of the harassment came, the judge said, “from employees in a position of power.”
Judge Leinenweber issued an injunction to change many of the company’s business practices, including company outings to topless bars and other forms of company-sanctioned “adult entertainment.”
Female sales reps were required to entertain Custom Companies customers and potential clients at a number of strip clubs on Kingsbury Street in Chicago, including “Crazy Horse Too” “Thee Doll House” and “VIP’s: A Gentlemen’s Club.” The EEOC found that three female sales reps were subjected to unwelcome groping, sexual propositions, pornography and lewd sexual language in the course of their job duties. Evidence included photos of strippers wearing very little posed at various holes at company golf outings for clients.
The EEOC found that Custom Companies CEO Perry Mandera owned and operated two of the strip clubs in question. When one female employee complained to the EEOC, she suffered retaliation led by CEO Perry Mandera, including a suit filed against her.
The judge wrote that, “Circumstances indicate that Defendants might engage in sexual harassment in the future. The sexual harassment was carried out by several individuals still employed by Defendants . . . The president and owner of the company, [Perry] Mandera, was even involved in the retaliation.”
In November 2006, a jury awarded $2.36 million to three former Custom Companies employees. The amount was reduced due to dollar-amount limitations imposed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Under a four-year injunction, the company is forbidden to sponsor events at “a place of adult entertainment or which includes adult entertainers.” Custom Companies is also required to distribute a notice to its customers advising them of the verdict and the judgment. In addition, the company is required to post a notice informing all employees of the outcome of the EEOC investigation, and of their right to contact the EEOC with complaints, without fear of retaliation.”
EEOC Regional Attorney John Hendrickson said, “Judge Leinenweber’s final judgment will surely be a milestone in Title VII law, especially on sexual harassment. It addresses and resolves in a thoughtful and scholarly way a host of important issues… Make no mistake about it, this is a big decision–it’s really important.”
“But beyond all that,” Hendrickson added, “we think it is especially significant that the court was willing to follow the evidence heard by the jury right into the executive suite and to the desk of the chief executive in assessing the need for injunctive relief and designing that relief to fit the way this company has done business. That is critically important, and it is what is going to make a practical difference to women who work at Custom Companies now and who will work there in the future.”
Justice in the case worked slowly. The original EEOC lawsuit was filed in May, 2002 in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, located in Chicago. Chicago attorneys Marty Denis and Michael D. Robbins represented two of the women who intervened in the case.
An Illinois firm recently settled an EEOC suit alleging discrimination against African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and women. Woodward Governor paid $5 million to two class action suits alleging discrimination at its plants in Rockford, Illinois and Rockton, Illinois. The company is based in Fort Collins, Colorado.
According to promotional material issued by the company, Woodward Governor is “the world’s largest independent designer, manufacturer, and service provider of energy control solutions for aircraft engines, industrial engines and turbines, power generation, and process automation equipment.” Woodward has approximately 1,100 employees at the Rockford and Rockton plants.
The Illinois plants are just two of 25 facilities worldwide including Australia, Brazil, China, Indian, Japan, Korea, and Poland. The company also has 10 plants in the U.S.
On May 8, 2003, a number of employees filed a class action suit against the Woodward Governor Company charging that the firm discriminated in pay, promotions and training against African-American, Hispanic and Asian employees. This violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, religion or national origin.
On October 4, 2006, the EEOC filed a similar claim on behalf of a number of employees, alleging that the company’s discriminatory practices included limiting opportunities for women. These actions violate Title VII, as well as the Equal Pay Act, which requires that women be paid the same amount as men for work that is substantially the same.
The two suits were consolidated by the court.
In filing the consent decree, Judge Philip Reinhard of the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois established a $2.4 million settlement for the minority employees. The award covers all minority employees who worked at the company’s Rockford or Rockton plants since May 1999. The judge established a separate $2.6 million fund to be shared by female employees who worked at Woodward Governor’s Illinois plants since June 2002.
The decree contains a number of other requirements. Woodward Governor must hire an industrial organizational psychologist to perform an analysis of production jobs that were an issue in the suit. The psychologist must develop written job descriptions, performance appraisals and a comprehensive review process for the positions. Once that is complete, Woodward Governor is required to review the job assignments of current production employees and adjust them if necessary.
The decree also authorizes the appointment of Nancy B. Kreiter to oversee Woodward’s implementation and compliance with the decree. Kreiter, of Chicago, has provided similar decrees with other EEOC lawsuits on sex discrimination against Mitsubishi Motors and the Dial Corporation. Kreiter will provide annual reports assessing Woodward’s compliance with the decree.
Woodward must implement a procedure for investigating complaints of discrimination under the agreement. In addition, the company must train all employees regarding the discrimination laws and the complaint procedure. It will report the results twice annually to Kreiter, the EEOC and the attorney representing the plaintiffs. These reviews must include information on promotion decisions, compensation and job training for employees.
These severe restrictions have led some pundits to the conclusion that Woodward Governor’s actions were especially severe.
“The EEOC is very satisfied with both the monetary and non-monetary relief provided for in the consent decree,” said EEOC Attorney John Hendrickson. “The $5 million settlement fund provides for significant monetary relief, and the appointment of Nancy Kreiter to oversee implementation of the decree ensures that the decree will bring about comprehensive changes at Woodward resulting in equal opportunity and treatment for all of Woodward’s employees.”
The Director of the EEOC Chicago District Office, John Rowe, who managed the agency’s pre-suit administrative investigation of Woodward Governor, said, “Our sense now is that Woodward Governor is determined to make the aspirations memorialized in the consent decree part of daily life at the company. With that, with the work of Ms. Kreiter, and with the good will of everyone involved, the future looks bright for everyone at Woodward Governor.” Rowe led the agency’s pre-suit investigation of the company.
EEOC Attorney Ann Henry, added, “The job analyses provided for by the consent decree should position Woodward to make future job assignment and compensation decisions based on job-related, non-discriminatory criteria and should go a long way in assuring a discrimination-free work environment at the company.” Henry tried the case along with Attorney. Gregory Gochanour.
The first one is the Illinois Equal Pay Act. Under this act, employers are those who have four or more employees. This includes individuals, partnerships, corporations, associations, businesses, the State of Illinois and its officers, departments and agencies, local governments and school districts. Employees are those working for the above types of employers. The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from giving differing wages to two people of the opposite sex when they have the same or “substantially similar” positions. In addition, employers cannot lower one person’s wages to meet those of someone of the opposite sex to make them equal.
Anyone wishing to make a claim on an Equal Pay Act violation must fill out the claim for and submit it along with all supporting information and documents to the Illinois Department of Labor within 180 days of the alleged violation. A copy of your compliant will be sent to your employer and the Department will investigate the claims.
The second resource employees in Illinois can go to is the Illinois Human Rights Act. Under this act, employers include everyone who has fifteen or more employees unless the claim involves sexual harassment in which case an employer is anyone with one or more employee. It also includes employment agencies and labor unions. The act defines employees as anyone working for an employer as defined above. It also includes apprentices but excludes domestic servants and elected public officials. Under this Act, employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of sex when hiring, firing, promoting, or assigning privileges or conditions of employment.
To file a Human Rights claim against your employer, you need to contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights within 180 days of the alleged violation. After having an interview with an intake officer, they will draft your charge and have you get it notarized. From there, your complaint will be investigated. If there is enough evidence to show that your rights have most likely been violated, you and your employer will enter conciliation. If conciliation fails, your case will be heard at a public hearing in front of an administrative judge.
It’s important that both employers and employees know their rights and responsibilities when it comes to discrimination in the workplace. In addition, all employers should have an updated version of the Illinois Labor Law Poster posted in the workplace.