Sexual Harassment Award for Employee Affirmed by Illinois Appellate Court

On May 21, 2020, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed (on purely procedural grounds) a decision of an administrative law judge ("ALJ") of the Illinois Human Rights Commission (the "Commission") that a female employee was subjected to unlawful sexual harassment in her employment, in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act.  Cigna and Professional Consultants, Inc. v. The Illinois Human Rights Commission, The Department of Human Rights, and Lois Owen, 2020 IL App (1st) 190620 (May 21, 2020).  After a two-day hearing, the ALJ recommended that the Commission find that the employer and the employee's direct supervisor sexually harassed the employee.  The Commission adopted the ALJ's recommended findings and decision.  The employee alleged that they sexually harassed her and created a hostile work environment on the basis of her sex.  The alleged workplace sexual harassment included the supervisor calling the employee a b*** on a daily basis, having a picture of a woman with her breasts exposed hanging in his office, making sexual comments to her, and sending emails of photos and videos depicting nude women or women in suggestive poses.

The employee alleged that she refused her supervisor's sexual advances and found them unwelcome, unwanted, and offensive.  She sought compensatory damages for emotional distress as well as attorneys' fees.  The ALJ found that there was an exchange of sexually explicit emails, banter, and comments, until the employee communicated her wish that the behavior stop.  A number of incidents of sexual harassment had occurred during her employment, including: (1) the supervisor kept a painting of a woman with partially exposed breasts hanging in his office throughout the employee's employment, despite her objections; (2) he made several public comments to her suggesting sexual activities; (3) he sent several emails to her containing sexual images or sexual content; (4) he regularly referred to her and other women as b****; (5) he occasionally told her about his infidelities and desires to be with younger women; and (6) he intentionally frightened her by sneaking up on her on occasion.  The employee established that she was a victim of sexual harassment and that she had suffered emotional distress.  The incidents of sexual harassment, which had permeated the workplace, were sufficiently severe and pervasive as to alter the conditions of employment and create an intimidating, hostile, offensive working environment.