Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer on Retaliation Claim under the Illinois Human Rights Act

On August 7, 2019, the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, affirmed the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a retaliation claim under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA").  Zoepfel-Thuline v. Black Hawk College, 2019 IL App (3d) 180524 (Third Dist. August 7, 2019).  The plaintiff, a teacher, alleged that the defendant delayed offering her employment contracts in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment, then later terminated her employment in retaliation for the employment discrimination lawsuit that she filed against the defendant.  In order to prevail on a retaliation claim under the IHRA, a plaintiff must establish that he or she engaged in protected activity under the IHRA.  The IHRA provides two ways in which a person's civil rights may be violated through retaliation.

It is unlawful to retaliate against a person because: (1) he or she opposed that which he or she reasonably and in good faith believed to be sexual harassment in employment; or (2) he or she made a charge, filed a complaint, testified, assisted, or participated in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under the IHRA.  The reasonable and good faith requirement applies to both.  Without a reasonable and good faith sexual harassment allegation, the plaintiff would have no retaliation claim.  The question on appeal was whether the plaintiff reasonably and in good faith believed that she was subjected to sexual harassment.  The plaintiff reported allegedly pornographic pictures that she found in her supervisor's desk when she was looking for vouchers.  She had no authorization to go into his desk.  The supervisor's placing or leaving the pictures in his private, restricted desk drawer was not an overt act of sexual harassment toward the plaintiff, or conduct sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.  Therefore, the plaintiff's reporting of the pictures or filing of the complaint did not constitute protected activity, and her retaliation claims failed.