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Leave Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Is Not a Free Pass to Not Work

Lawsuits can go either way in court, as this plaintiff discovered when she lost her case.

While there are many reasons to file a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), those reasons must be valid when tested by the courts. If they are not, the plaintiff may lose his case. This is what happened in Samper v. Providence St. Vincent Med. Ctr., 9th Cir., 4/11/12,” said Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace.

In Samper, the plaintiff neonatal intensive care nurse was a fibromyalgia sufferer, experiencing chronic pain and an inability to sleep soundly or restfully. Her unplanned absences from work were more than allowed, according to the terms of her job description. In working with the nurse to try and accommodate her medical issues, the hospital agreed to a very flexible schedule that would allow her to move her shift, should she be having a bad fibromyalgia symptom day.

Even with the new very flexible shift arrangement, her rate of attendance in the workplace did not get any better, so the hospital fired her. The nurse chose to sue the employer under the ADA, alleging they did not offer her reasonable accommodation, as outlined in the ADA. The hospital’s defense was that, while they did acknowledge she was disabled, they did not feel that an open-ended pass to be absent for work was reasonable, not in a job such as working in the neonatal intensive care unit, where her physical presence as essential.

If the worker was not present at the hospital in the neonatal intensive care unit, then she could not perform her job, whether she had a flexible schedule or not. Since that was the case, and that the nurse could not do her work at home, she should not be considered a qualified individual protected under the auspices of the ADA.

When this case got to court, the legal question of the day was whether or not showing up for work on a predictable basis was essential. The decision was that a nurse in the intensive care unit must be in attendance, not only because it was essential, but because it was a matter of life or death. The defendant won this case,” said Coffey.

Not all cases that go to court win, and there is a valuable lesson inherent in this case. Predictably showing up for work is essential, or a job cannot be done. This fact must be a part of the job description, to be fair to employees by outlining everything expected of them. Additionally, the employer must make an effort to offer reasonable accommodations for a worker. This hospital made a significant accommodation for this nurse, but she wanted that to exempt her from the very essential nature of the job: being in regular attendance. This means it was not afforded protection under the ADA.

Timothy J. Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer with, and owner of, The Coffey Law Office, P.C., a Chicago employment litigation firm. To learn more, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 27th, 2012 at 6:15 pm and is filed under News and Press
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There is a Proper Way to Issue Severance for Reduction in Force Situations, Says Chicago Employment Lawyer

There is a right way and a wrong way to issue severances. Employers need to follow a strict protocol or run afoul of the law.

To avoid a charge of ageism, or age discrimination, there are rules a company needs to follow if their reorganization or consolidation process ends up affecting older workers. An older worker may well feel he is losing his job because of his age and that management chose to reorganize to have the chance to let him go,” said Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace.

If a company has its head on straight, they will structure any layoffs or reduction in their workforce by approaching it strictly in a business-like manner, clearly outlining the reasons for all changes and/or the blending of positions. They need to also be able to demonstrate why another worker was given the new position, based on qualifications,” Coffey said.

If someone in a company makes off-the-cuff remarks about age, it would be harder for them to prove that age was not a determining factor in letting an older worker go. A case in point is Duffy v. Belk, Inc., No. 11-1757, 4th Cir., 2012, where a 63-year-old customer relationship manager was re-organized out of a job.

What happened in this case is that the store merged his job with the job of company vice president and then offered the newly creation position to the woman currently holding the VP job. The lady was 43-years-old. Although the man was offered other jobs, he turned them down for two reasons: they did not pay what he was used to making, and they were lesser-ranked jobs. He sued the company, alleging he should have been offered the new position and that he did not get it because of age discrimination,” Coffey said.

When the case got to court, the process the furniture company had used to reduce their workforce was explained in great detail. It involved combining common job functions and reducing duplication in the workplace. The woman was offered the newly blended job, as she had an MBA and credible job experience in an area where the company wanted to expand in the future.

There had been no criticism of older workers in the workplace, remarks made about bringing in younger blood or any other incidents that indicated to the court that they were antagonistic towards older managers. The court discharged the man’s case.

However, this case could just as easily have gone the other way, with a win for the plaintiff, if there had been any indications of age discrimination. If employers want to treat their employees fairly when it comes to reorganizing or reducing their workforce, they need to have every step and reason carefully documented,” said Coffey.

Timothy J. Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer with, and owner of, The Coffey Law Office, P.C., a Chicago employment litigation firm. To learn more, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 16th, 2012 at 6:15 pm and is filed under News and Press
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Chicago Employment Lawyer Asserts Americans with Disabilities Act Does Not Exempt Employees from Work

Employers need to set clear expectations for employees in order to avoid ADA lawsuits

“While there are many reasons to file a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), those reasons must be valid when tested by the courts,” according to Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P.C.. “If they are not, the plaintiff may lose his or her case, which is what happened in Samper v. Providence St. Vincent Med. Ctr., 9th Cir., 4/11/12.”

In Samper, the plaintiff neonatal intensive care nurse was a fibromyalgia sufferer, experiencing chronic pain and an inability to sleep soundly or restfully. Her unplanned absences from work were more than allowed, according to the terms of her job description. In working with the nurse to try and accommodate her medical issues, the hospital employer agreed to a very flexible schedule that would allow her to move her shift if she had a day where she was experiencing bad fibromyalgia symptoms.

Even with the new flexible shift arrangement, her rate of attendance in the workplace did not improve, and the hospital fired her. The nurse chose to sue the employer under the ADA, alleging they did not offer her reasonable accommodation, as outlined in the ADA. The hospital’s defense was that, while they did acknowledge she was disabled, they did not feel an open-ended pass to be absence for work was reasonable, especially when working in the neonatal intensive care unit where one’s physical presence is essential.

If the worker was not present at the hospital in the neonatal intensive care unit, then she could not perform her job, whether she had a flexible schedule or not. Since that was the case, and the nurse could not do her work at home, she could not be considered a qualified individual protected under the auspices of the ADA.

“When this case got to court, the legal question of the day was whether or not it was essential showing up for work on a predictable basis,” said Coffey. “The decision was that a nurse in the intensive care unit must be in attendance, not only because it was essential but because it was a matter of life or death. The defendant won the case.”

Not all cases that go to court win, and there is a valuable lesson inherent in this case. Showing up for work on a predictable basis is essential, or a job cannot be performed. Facts like this must be included in the job description, so employees understand exactly what is expected of them. Additionally, employers must make an effort to offer reasonable accommodations for all workers. The hospital made a significant accommodation for the nurse in this case, but she wanted that to exempt her from the very essential nature of the job: being in regular attendance. This means is was not afforded protection under the ADA.

Timothy J. Coffey is an employment lawyer and owner of The Coffey Law Office, P.C., a Chicago employment litigation firm. To learn more, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 at 10:56 pm and is filed under News and Press
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Workplace Discrimination Is Illegal and Should Be Investigated

In Illinois, it is illegal to discriminate in the workplace. If you have been a victim of discrimination, call an experienced Chicago employment lawyer.

In the state of Illinois, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone because of:

  • Their race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Age 40 or over
  • Military service
  • Sexual orientation
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Citizenship status
  • Physical handicap
  • Mental handicap
  • Ancestry
  • Unfavorable military discharge

If you work in Illinois, you are protected from anyone discriminating against you, for any reason, and for all of the conditions of your employment. That would include, but may not be limited to:

  • Transfer
  • Pay
  • Tenure
  • Selection
  • Harassment
  • Promotion
  • Demotion
  • Performance assessment
  • Employment conditions
  • Seniority
  • Union representation
  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Layoffs

Not sure how to figure out if there is discrimination in your workplace? Take a look around you and watch how people are treated. You can often figure out if someone is being discriminated against by how they are treated. For example, sexual discrimination often takes place in the form of unwelcome and unwanted sexual advances, asking for sexual favors, or if a superior suggests a person’s position at a company is dependent upon the person having sex with the supervisor/manager. That kind of conduct violates anti-discrimination laws if it gets in the way of job performance or creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment.

There are other forms of discrimination, and one of them relates to an employer not providing a reasonable accommodation for a worker. This can include if someone needs a special monitor to do their job or a certain kind of desk with more space to perform their tasks. Interestingly, this reasonable accommodation provision is also applicable to a person’s religion. This is not to say that a company has to hire those not otherwise qualified for a job, but that they need to make reasonable accommodations whenever it would not cause undue hardship for the employer.

If you are an employer and not clear on what you need to do in the workplace with regard to discrimination, make it a point to contact an experienced Chicago employment lawyer. It is vital you get the right kind of information about discrimination and how to avoid running afoul of the law. Your Chicago employment lawyer has many years in the trenches handling cases dealing with discrimination. You could not ask for better legal counsel.

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, December 28th, 2011 at 7:39 pm and is filed under Discrimination
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Illinois Employers Are Liable For Supervisor Conduct Toward Workers

When it comes to sexual harassment, Illinois employers are deemed responsible for a supervisor’s actions towards an employee.

The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that an employer is responsible for sexual harassment of an employee by a supervisor, even if that worker is not under his or her direct command. Or to put it another way, if a manager/supervisor makes advances toward any worker, not just one who works directly for them, it is still considered to be sexual harassment.

This is an important ruling and means that Illinois company owners must train their staff, including managers, on how to prevent sexual harassment in their workplace and how to avoid a hostile work environment as a result of the harassment. This ruling was handed down in Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department v. Illinois Human Rights Commission; a ruling that stated the employer is strictly liable for any manager’s or supervisor’s actions.

Part of this significant case involved a close look at the federal law in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which indicates that a person is not a supervisor unless they have direct authority over a victim’s employment status. The Illinois Human Rights Act does have this restriction, and their stated position is that employers are liable for the actions and conduct of every supervisor towards all employees in the company.

In Sangamon, a female records clerk filed a sexual harassment and retaliation complaint against the sheriff’s department. She stated a sergeant in the department, not her direct supervisor, was harassing her. In this case, the initial lawsuit was filed against the supervisor and the sheriff’s department.

The accused male harasser opted to settle out of court, thus dismissing him from the case, and leaving the department on the hook. The courts found the employer strictly liable for the man’s behavior even though she did not work directly under his authority. This ruling is important, as it, in effect, stretches out or expands the meaning of strict liability under Illinois law.

It should be mentioned that strict liability in this case means that the sheriff’s department was liable for the sexual harassment even if they did not know about it, and this applies whether the harassment was a hostile work environment or unwanted and unwelcome sexual come-ons. The court awarded the victim $23,000; $13,000 in court fees and $10,000 in damages.

Every case in this area of the law is different, and for this reason, if you have been in a similar situation in your workplace, call an experienced Chicago employment lawyer for advice and legal counsel. If you want to know what your rights are in situations like this one, or similar scenarios, the call you make to a Chicago employment lawyer will give you enough information to decide what you would like to do with your potential case.

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, December 14th, 2011 at 3:15 am and is filed under Employment Law
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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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Religious Harassment and Discrimination is Prohibited says Chicago Employment Lawyer

It should go without saying that religious discrimination and harassment is prohibited. Sadly, this still happens today.

“Religious discrimination may come in many forms, and to the employee, it may not seem like discrimination at first, until they begin to see a pattern. For instance, religious discrimination may come when you are denied the right to take holidays. You may be told something like: ‘Just for this year, we need you to fill in for someone,’ and you comply. However, you notice that over the year, when your religion has holidays, there is always a reason why you are not granted those days off,” said Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace.

This form of discrimination can be subtle. It may involve the employer denying a worker the right to keep weekly religious holidays by not scheduling around those days when it is reasonable to do that. For instance, if the employee is a shift worker, and his or her religious holiday is a Saturday, and the company continually schedules the person to work that day despite others being available to take that shift, it may be discrimination.

“Denying an employee a promotion because of their religion or religious affiliation is discrimination, as is not hiring the most qualified individual because of their religion,” Coffey said. “It goes further than the employer. It involves the workplace itself, and if there is harassment or the creation of a hostile workplace due to co-worker’s, this too is discrimination.”

Unfortunately, since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, there has been a significant increase in discrimination against people of Middle Eastern lineage. This has snowballed into discrimination in many forms against those who are confirmed Muslims, and those who are perceived as Muslims.

“While it is not fair and is illegal, it is still happening. What people fail to take into consideration is that you can’t brand a whole race for the acts of a few. For Muslims or Middle Eastern individuals who are enduring hostile workplaces, it may help you to call an experienced Chicago employment lawyer and find out your rights,” Coffey said. “My office is capable of handling any type of religious discrimination and will represent clients from all religious backgrounds, provided they have a case.”

“Just one word of advice for those who may be experiencing religious harassment and discrimination at work – report it to a supervisor. Keep records, read your company handbook and know where you stand. Having a verbal and/or paper trail in cases like this is important. Do not wait to report it. Act immediately to get assistance with the harassment. If this does not work, then please, call my office and we can discuss your circumstances,” Coffey said.

Timothy J. Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer with, and owner of, The Coffey Law Office, P.C., a Chicago employment litigation firm. To learn more, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 5th, 2011 at 8:02 pm and is filed under News and Press
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The EEOC Is Dead Serious About Stamping Out Sexual Harassment Indicates Chicago Employment Lawyer

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is making great inroads in stamping out sexual harassment in workplaces.

“Sexual harassment is never acceptable in any form in the workplace. Anyone that feels they have been the victim of such inappropriate behavior needs to contact a highly trained Chicago employee litigation attorney to get to the bottom of the situation,” said Timothy J. Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer with, and owner of, The Coffey Law Office, P.C.

While individual cases dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace seem to be more prevalent, they are also the focus of a drive by the EEOC to stamp it out. In fact, one of their latest cases deals with two Florida-based companies who were caught on the wrong side of the laws relating to sexual workplace harassment.

The case is interesting in that it highlights what the EEOC is attempting to achieve for workers across the nation. It is cases like this that are used as examples in court should a lawyer in another jurisdiction have the need to try a similar case. It also demonstrates that legally speaking, sexual workplace harassment is not to be tolerated in any form and there are consequences for crossing over the line.

The case on point here was filed against two Florida companies – Cobra Pavers & Engineering, Inc. and Cobra Construction. Apparently, Cobra managers made it a habit to harass female office workers in such as manner as to create a sexually hostile work environment. They told jokes, made denigrating remarks about women, bandied inappropriate sexual remarks about on a daily basis and took great delight in telling stories about sexual adventures and exploits. The sexual harassment was not just verbal; it included very unwelcome sexual touching.

The EEOC filed a lawsuit and won; a situation that will see Cobra pay $125,000 to settle the lawsuit. In addition, they have also agreed to revise both company’s sexual harassment policies, offer training to workers and management, post a notice about the case and the settlement and report any future discrimination complaints to the EEOC.

“If this can happen in Florida, it can happen in Chicago,” said Coffey, “which is why employment lawyers stay up-to-date on the latest cases in this area. It’s highly sensitive and in many cases, workers in that type of a situation have no place to turn to for help. That is my job, to help people deal with situations like this.”

Timothy J. Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer with, and owner of, The Coffey Law Office, P.C., a Chicago employment litigation firm. To learn more, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com

This entry was posted on Monday, February 28th, 2011 at 6:59 pm and is filed under News and Press
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Be Honest with Employment Law Counsel about the Nature of Workplace Harassment Says Chicago Employment Lawyer

Lack of honesty when discussing your case with counsel may result in unexpected results.

“You need to be cautious about filing a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit, as this kind of a suit may go both ways,” said Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. “Let me make my point by using a recent case as an example.”

The case happened in Iowa when Jane Doe got a job at a local store sorting nuts and bolts. She worked in the plant four years and came to the conclusion that she was the focal point of sexual harassment in her workplace. Various co-workers were apparently involved, but there was one worker who not only insulted Doe, but her husband as well.

Deciding that she had had enough of what was going on at work, she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit and alleged that the co-worker she was complaining about would make sure he was always close to her so that he had to brush up against her privates and vice versa. Offensive off-color jokes were the order of the day.

The company took the initiative to conduct its own investigation into this matter and did indeed come to the conclusion that there was a hostile work environment and that most of the allegations that Doe filed could be confirmed. “However, the investigation also revealed that the sexual harassment between the two co-workers was mutual and in direct violation of company policy. Both workers were suspended for five days and the male worker was transferred,” Coffey said.

At trial, the Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals said that an internal investigation would many times turn up conflicting evidence that necessitates someone making a judgment about credibility. The company, in this instance, had to choose among various bits of information to arrive at a good faith conclusion. Accordingly, Doe was suspended for her misconduct and not because she complained. The court concluded the company’s response had been appropriate.

“As you can see, there is a very important distinction to be made in this case and that is the female worker was suspended for her conduct in violation of company policy, not because she filed a sexual harassment complaint. For those in a similar situation, it is vital to be completely honest with your employment counsel, or the results in court may not be what you expect them to be,” Coffey said.

Timothy J. Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer with, and owner of, The Coffey Law Office, P.C., a Chicago employment litigation firm. To learn more, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com

This entry was posted on Monday, February 21st, 2011 at 6:58 pm and is filed under News and Press
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