Sexual Harassment & Discrimination In the Workplace
Employers in the state of Illinois are prohibited from treating employees differently because of their sex or tying a job or job-related benefits to participation in sexual activity or conduct. Applicants or employees who experienced sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace may have the right to bring a legal claim for damages
You may have the right to take legal action if you have been the victim of sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace in Illinois. Whether you’ve been hit on a few too many times, denied a promotion because you refused to submit to a superior’s advances, or paid less than employees of another sex, the Mahoney Law Firm can help you fight to make things right.
For more than 16 years, Illinois employment lawyer Ryan Mahoney has been fighting for the rights of aggrieved workers across the state. He understands how difficult it can be to speak up about sexual harassment and discriminatory conduct in the workplace. That’s why he’s dedicated his career to helping clients like you stand up to powerful employers, corporations, and individuals.
Let the Mahoney Law Firm help you make things right. We’ll take on your employer and force them to accept responsibility for the financial harm, career damage, and emotional suffering you’ve endured. We offer a free consultation, so please don’t hesitate to call our law office to arrange a time for yours today.
What Counts as Sexual Harassment in Illinois?
You have the right to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace. These protections are guaranteed under Illinois state law (Illinois Human Rights Act) and federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).
Harassment, broadly speaking, involves “unwelcome conduct” based on a protected characteristic, like sex.
Quid Pro Quo Harassment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when you experience “any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature” where:
- You are expected to submit to those requests or advances as a condition of your employment, or
- Your reaction to the advances or requests are considered when employment-related decisions are made by your employer.
In more simple terms, quid pro quo harassment means that you are expected to submit to an employer’s sexual advances in exchange for a job or job-related benefit or perks.
Examples of quid pro quo harassment include:
- Hiring or promising to hire an applicant if they engage in sexual conduct with an employer
- Refusing to promote an employee or give them a raise if they reject sexual advances
- Giving an employee favorable treatment in exchange for sexual favors or the expectation of sexual favors
- Firing an employee for rejecting a supervisor’s request for sexual favors or sexual advances
If an aspect of your job is tied to your employer’s request for sexual conduct or favors, then you are likely the victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment in the workplace in Illinois.
Hostile Work Environment
Sexual harassment can also occur when sexual advances or sexual behavior “substantially interaferes” with your ability to do your job or creates “an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”
In other words, sexually explicit conduct, comments, advances, or behavior creates a work atmosphere that makes it incredibly difficult for you to do your job.
Examples of behavior or conduct that might create a hostile work environment might include:
- Sharing sexually-explicit stories or jokes
- Making unwanted comments about an employee’s appearance or sexuality
- Repeated use of slurs or derogatory language
- Inappropriate, sexually-explicit physical gestures
- Text messages or emails of a sexual nature
- Sexual advances or inappropriate touching in the workplace
If you’ve become uncomfortable at work because a supervisor or employer has made sexually explicit comments, hit on you, touched you, or repeatedly used derogatory terms aimed at your gender, then you may be the victim of sexual harassment.
How is Sexual Discrimination Different From Sexual Harassment?
Harassment is related to conduct that is sexually explicit, vulgar, or assertive. It creates an uncomfortable work situation or forces an employee to engage in or entertain conduct to succeed in the workplace. Discrimination, on the other hand, refers to any unfavorable treatment that’s related to your protected characteristic.
Under federal law and the Illinois Human Rights Act, employers are prohibited from discriminating against job applicants and employees on the basis of their sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
You may have experienced sexual discrimination in the workplace if you:
- Weren’t hired for a position because of your sex or gender
- Were passed over for a promotion, even though you genuinely deserved it
- Are paid less than co-workers of a different sex
- Receive unfavorable job assignments or schedules
- Have been retaliated against because you spoke up about potential discriminatory conduct or policies
- Have been fired or terminated because of your sex
Sex discrimination doesn’t have to be direct and explicit. It can happen indirectly, as well. This typically happens when an employer has policies in place that affect all employees but negatively affect one group because of their sex.
For instance, let’s say an employer has a height or weight requirement for a job opening. This would likely negatively affect female applicants because men tend to be taller and weigh more. If there’s no reason to have a height or weight requirement for the position, and if the policy couldn’t be justified by a business necessity, it may be discriminatory.
What Should I Do If I’m Being Sexually Harassed or Discriminated Against At Work?
You have the right to be free from sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, surveys indicate that sexual harassment is an all-too-common problem for men and women across the country.
More than a third of all women report that they’ve experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Studies suggest that 75 percent of all instances of workplace sexual harassment aren’t reported. The fear of retaliation is just too high. Often, victims of sexual harassment fear that the consequences of speaking out will outweigh any potential benefits.
However, filing a sexual harassment lawsuit or discrimination claim can be life-changing. Not only can you hold your employer accountable for their illegal behavior, but you can potentially protect others from having the same experience as you.
If you’re being sexually harassed or have been the victim of sex discrimination at work, there are a few things you can do to support a future claim:
- Document the harassment or discriminatory conduct. Keep a diary, journal, or log of your experiences. Be sure to note any impact the conduct has had on your job performance, career outlook, and emotional wellbeing.
- Gather evidence. It will be helpful to have direct evidence of your employer’s unlawful conduct. If there are emails or texts, keep them. Ask witnesses to write down their memories of the events.
- Report the unlawful conduct to HR. Your company may have policies in place to deal with sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
- Make it clear that the harassing behavior is unwelcome. To be classified as harassment, the sexual conduct or advances must be unwelcome. Make it clear to your supervisor or boss that their behavior makes you uncomfortable and isn’t tolerated.
Finally, speak with an experienced Illinois sexual harassment and discrimination lawyer. Employment discrimination and harassment claims can be challenging. Gathering the strength to speak out and seek justice can be incredibly difficult. An attorney will help you navigate the process and be there to support you as you seek compensation for your financial losses and suffering.
What if the unwelcome conduct happens outside of work?
Unwelcome sexual conduct that adversely affects your work environment constitutes sexual harassment even if the behavior occurs off-site, outside working hours, or through electronic communication channels.
The following conduct in a non-work setting could cause you to feel unsafe or uncomfortable at work:
- Sexual comments or innuendos on social media
- Pressure to date or engage in sexual activity
- Sexually explicit stories or jokes emailed, texted, or messaged to you
- Sexual advances
- Unwelcome phone calls
You also do not have to be in the same office, building, or state as the perpetrator. Sexual harassment can occur when you are telecommuting, on vacation, attending social events — whether or not they are work sponsored — or during your regular days off.
Additionally, neither the harasser nor the victim must be another employee for sexual harassment to occur. Unwelcome sexual conduct still counts as sexual harassment if the perpetrator or victim is a customer, contractor, vendor, or service provider, according to the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
What if the harasser is the same gender?
Sexual harassment is often thought of as conduct by a man against a woman. While this may be the case, sexual harassment is not limited to conduct against a woman by a man. According to 2018 Pew Research data, 27 percent of men reported having experienced sexual harassment at work.
Sexual harassment can also be perpetrated by members of the same gender. In the June 2020 case of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the following actions against individuals in the LGBTQ community constitute sexual harassment when they are pervasive and persistent:
- Derogatory remarks or slurs about their sexual orientation or gender identity
- Repeated and intentional references to a transgender person using the incorrect name or pronouns
- Adverse employment decisions based on sexual orientation or gender identity
Denying transgender people the right to use the bathroom of their choice or dress according to their gender identity is discrimination. Making people feel uncomfortable about which bathroom they use or how they express their gender identity is harassment.
While occasionally bumping into someone or brushing up against a person’s hand can occur inadvertently, if it happens too frequently with the same person, it could be a form of sexual harassment, especially in the presence of other unwelcome conduct.
While sexual touching certainly constitutes sexual harassment and may even rise to the level of assault, unwelcome touching need not be overtly sexual to constitute sexual harassment. Sexual harassment includes the following unwelcome pervasive and persistent touching:
- Frequently brushing against someone
- Constantly grabbing a person’s hand
- Cornering someone
- Leaning over someone
- Massaging someone’s neck, shoulders, or other areas of their body
- Touching someone’s clothing, hair, or body
If the touching involves attempted or actual sexual assault, it is a crime in addition to harassment.
The Mahoney Law Firm is Here to Help You Fight Sexual Harassment & Discrimination In the Workplace
You should be able to do your job and grow your career without being sexually harassed or discriminated against in the process. If you have experienced sexual harassment or sex discrimination at work in Illinois, call the Mahoney Law Firm. Award-winning employment lawyer Ryan Mahoney will help you bring a claim against your employer and fight to make things right.
Through an employment discrimination or harassment claim, you may be entitled to equitable relief (getting hired for a job or receiving a long overdue promotion), actual damages (back pay, front pay, lost benefits), and compensatory damages (emotional distress). You can also force your employer to take full responsibility for their illegal actions and protect others in the process.
You have legal protections under Illinois state and federal law. Let the Mahoney Law Firm help you assert them. Our law office, conveniently located in Madison County, IL, offers a free consultation. Give us a call to schedule yours today.