Illinois Supreme Court Expands Employer Liability In Sexual Harassment Lawsuits
On April 16, 2009 the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in Sangamon County Sheriff's Department v. The Illinois Human Rights Commission, that if any supervisor or manager sexually harasses an employee, the company is strictly liable for the sexual harassment. Previously and in federal court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, liability was only imputed on the company if the supervisor or manager were the employees direct supersivor or manager. This case makes it easier for employees to hold a company strictly liable for sexual harassment and will make it easier for employees to prove their case.
In this case Donna Feleccia filed a sexual harassment and retaliation charge against the Sangamon County Sheriff's Department and Sgt. Ron Yanor. Sgt. Yanor was a supervisor but not Feleccia's supervisor. Feleccia filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and then with the Illinois Human Rights Commission alleging Yanor retaliated against her because she refused to engage in sexual activity with him. She also alleged the Sangamon County Sheriff's Department created a hostile work environment after she reported the discriminatory conduct of sexual harassment and retaliation.
As part of the evidence presented by Feleccia, she produced a letter that was composed on Illinois Department of Public Health letterhead claiming Feleccia had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Feleccia claimed Sgt. Yanor wrote the letter and this was confirmed with fingerprint analysis. This along with other evidence led to the Illinois Human Rights Commission finding in favor of Feleccia on sexual harassment, retaliation and hostile work environment claims. The Department appealed and the Illinois Court of Appeals reversed finding that Sgt. Yanor was merely a co-employee who had no direct supervisory authority over her. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court.