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Expanded Liability for Sexual Harassment in Illinois

April 30, 2009

By Kenneth W. Gage and Jon A. Geier

On April 16, 2009, the Illinois Supreme Court expanded Illinois employers exposure to damages for sexual harassment and distinguished Illinois law from federal law in this area. In Sangamon County Sheriffs Department v. The Illinois Human Rights Commission, (Sangamon County), the Illinois Supreme Court held that an employer is strictly liable for sexual harassment committed by a supervisor, regardless of whether he is the plaintiffs supervisor or in the plaintiffs chain of command.

The plaintiff in Sangamon County was a records clerk with the Sheriffs Department. The alleged harasser was a patrol division sergeant. He worked a different shift that partially overlapped with the plaintiffs shift, but he had no supervisory authority over her. The Sheriffs Department responded promptly when the plaintiff first complained of the harassment, conducted a thorough investigation, and disciplined the harasser. The Human Rights Commission found the Sheriffs Department strictly liable for the harassment that preceded the plaintiffs complaint and awarded her damages.