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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