An avalanche of sexual assault and harassment claims have tumbled across the country. A stunning number of people, mostly women, have recounted their stories of sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of, mostly men, in some position of power. The #MeToo movement has become the story of the past year in US society. Time Magazine named “The Silence Breakers - Those That Launched the Movement” as the Person of the Year for 2017.
Who Are Sexual Harassers?
The assailants have come from bastions of power and privilege - politicians, media and film executives and personalities, business executives, professional athletes, and doctors. The sheer number of the claims is overwhelming, alarming and sad.
In community settings, the abuse and harassment claims came from places including public schools. At least 26 public-school districts across the U.S. agreed this year to at least $37 million in settlements stemming from allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault of students, teachers or other employees, according to a tally of payouts by The Wall Street Journal.
Sexual Harassment in the News
More than one politician has been forced to resign when multiple allegations were made against them. A well-known movie director, who previously surrounded himself with up-and-coming female stars, is no longer welcome at award events after many of those young women claimed he had sexually abused or harassed them. Allegedly, he required them to tolerate his aberrant sexual behavior, or to provide him with sexual favors, in exchange for movie roles.
Allegations have pervaded all areas of the corporate world. Actors have been fired from their starring roles in TV series. One radio host with a long-running down-home radio show had his contract terminated amidst sexual abuse allegations. Fox News Host Bill O’Reilly was reported to have settled sexual harassment charges by an underling for $32,000,000.
Even the sports world has been tainted by charges. A gold medal winning Olympic snowboarder had some of the shine taken off of his win when details surfaced about his 2017 settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit. As it turns out, the Olympian also had a band, and the female drummer alleged in her lawsuit that he harassed her in many ways with threats to replace her in the band if she did not comply with his requests.
More Sexual Harassment Incidents
It is not just men who are doing the harassing. One female politician had to give up her dream of being a congressional representative when it was revealed that the company she previously worked for had settled with her former male aide who claimed she had sexually harassed him.
An employee of Aaron’s Rents in Illinois, was verbally and physically abused by her boss in a grotesque manner. She attempted to receive assistance from the corporate headquarters which failed to act. In fact, the assailant was tipped of by a supervisor that the young lady was seeking help. The abuse continued. An award in the tens of millions was rendered to her.
In another case close to home, two Chicago based Ford Motor Co. plants have been in the news due to hundreds of women who have made allegations against their supervisors. Ford has made settlements with many of them, but the settlements have nondisclosure agreements so no one knows exactly what happened.
With so many allegations against prominent people, many in the corporate world, and so many settlements, you may ask, " What constitutes sexual harassment?" If you are the victim of sexual harassment, you may wonder what can you do about it within the legal system.
What is Sexual Harassment?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” It can also include offensive remarks about the person’s sex. A harasser can be a man or a woman.
The Illinois Department of Human Rights has published a model policy statement that businesses can use in educating their employees about unwanted sexual advances. It defines some specific types of conduct that may amount to harassment.
- Verbal. Sexual innuendos, sexual propositions, repeated requests for dates, suggestive comments, jokes about sex.
- Non-verbal. Insulting sounds like whistling or obscene body gestures.
- Visual. Sexually suggestive posters of photos or slogans. Viewing pornographic websites.
- Physical. Unwelcome hugging, kissing, pinching, or coerced sex act.
- Electronic. Sending suggestive photos or comments by text. Cyberstalking.
Remedies at Work
In order to recover damages for sexual harassment in the workplace, you need to prove the sexual conduct was unwelcome, and that it came from someone with authority over you who could affect the status of your employment. Damages to which you may be entitled include:
- Compensatory damages. This includes any medical expenses you incurred due to your emotional distress over the harassment. Any lost wages for time you had to take off of work because of the harassment, and other job-related losses, like loss of a promotion, or transfer to a lower-paying position.
- Emotional damages. These may be for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
- Punitive damages. These are designed to punish the defendant.
You may also receive compensation for your legal fees and costs related to the litigation.
Working with a Sexual Harassment Attorney
The law applicable to sexual harassment lawsuits is complex. Who you can sue may depend on the circumstances of your case. Whether federal or state law will apply, or both, may depend on the number of employees at your place of work. The amount of damages you can collect may also depend on the number of employees. If you have been the victim of sexual abuse in the workplace, contact a Chicago sexual harassment attorney at the Blumenshine Law Group (312)766-1000 or email at [email protected] for a free consultation.