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Sheriff Deputy Allegedly Sexually Harassed Plaintiff

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 <a href=”http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com”>Chicago employment lawyer</a> 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 <a href=”http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com”>Chicago employment attorney</a>, visit Employmentlawcounsel.com.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 at 7:27 pm and is filed under Harassment
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Plaintiff Appealed Retaliation Case to Supreme Court of Illinois

In this employment case, the plaintiff filed claims of retaliation in the workplace.

This is an interesting case and serves as a tool to show that when filing a complaint through the Human Rights Commission, the wording and content of the complaint are very important. The case is Blount v. Stroud et al. 904 N.E.2d 1 (2009) 232 Ill. 2d 302 No. 10557, appealed to the Supreme Court of Illinois.

In this instance, the plaintiff, Jerri Blount, appealed a judgment by a lower court reversing a multimillion dollar jury award relating to her federal and state retaliation claims against the defendants Stroud and Jovon Broadcasting. The core issue was whether or not Blount’s only source of redress was via the administrative procedures laid out in the Illinois Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/1-101 (West 2000)).

In 2001, the plaintiff filed several complaints against the defendants. At issue in the Illinois Supreme Court were counts three and five. In count three, the plaintiff stated the defendants wrongfully dismissed her, violating the federal Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981 (2000)). It appeared the issue was that defendant Stroud retaliated against plaintiff Blount because she stood up for a coworker in a federal discrimination suit against Jovon Broadcasting. Both plaintiff and defendants were African-American and the coworker was Caucasian.

It appeared that Blount was a witness to some behavior the coworker was subjected to and that Blount said her complaints had merit. Blount also told her boss, Stroud, she would testify for the coworker. However her boss said to stay out of the situation and be quiet. Blount thought that was the wrong thing to do and testified for her coworker. She was threatened, intimidated, suspended and fired in October 2000.

In relation to count five, which was tied directly to count three, it was indicated in court that witnesses must testify truthfully and that perjury is a criminal offense. Because the plaintiff refused to tell a lie in court about her coworker, the management fired her.

At trial, defendants stated the lower circuit court did not have jurisdiction to judge the plaintiff’s retaliation claims, saying the claim fell under the prohibitions in the Act (see 775 ILCS 5/6-101(A) (West 2000)), and that she had to seek a resolution through the Act’s administrative procedures.

Further, defense counsel said the plaintiff’s claims were linked to a civil rights violation and therefore the Act preempted the claims. The court rejected those arguments and focused on complaint five. On the retaliation claim, the jury found for the plaintiff back pay in the amount of $257,350, a pain and suffering award of $25,000 and punitive damages for $2.8 million. After the trial it was argued, among other things, the circuit court did not have jurisdiction. The appellate court reversed.

When this case reached the Illinois Supreme Court, the court reversed the judgment of the appellate court. In other words, they held that the circuit court did have jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claim and they reversed the judgment of the appellate court and remanded the matter back to that court.

It is quite evident that retaliation claims and wrongful dismissal issues can be incredibly complex. Consequently, how they are filed is of vital importance, and this is something that a Chicago employment lawyer will attend to when filing such a complaint. If you are not sure whether or not you may have a case, make a call to an experienced Chicago employment attorney and discuss your situation.

Timothy Coffey is a <a href=”http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com”>Chicago employment lawyer</a> 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 <a href=”http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com”>Chicago employment attorney</a>, visit Employmentlawcounsel.com.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011 at 7:27 pm and is filed under News and Press
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