Seventh Circuit Finds That the Word Bitch Can Be Actionable In Sexual Harassment Claim

In a recent federal appellate court opinion, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the word bitch, in context, could be actionable as sexual harassment.  The plaintiff was a deputy director of the Day Reporting Center of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.  She held this position for five years.  She claimed that her supervisor, John Sullivan, subjected her to sexual harassment and that she was fired because of her sex.  A jury found in Plaintiff’s favor and awarded her a total of $4.1 million.  Post-trial, the district court granted dismissed the case.  The County argued that the Sheriff’s General Order 3.7A set forth its sexual harassment policy and the procedures for handling complaints and investigations.  The Order also provided a formal complaint form for a complaining employee to give to her supervisor.  The form was not specific, but asked a complainant to briefly summarize the circumstances giving rise to the claim.  In turn, the supervisor receiving the report was to forward it to the Inspector General’s office for review and investigation.  Plaintiff was familiar with the Order as she taught the policy to new recruits.  Plaintiff, however, did not fill out the form regarding her complaint.  The jury heard evidence from the former director of internal affairs that an aggrieved employee could complain about sexual harassment in any number of ways, including going to their supervisor, their supervisor’s supervisor, or directly to the Inspector General’s Office.  Plaintiff also testified that there was a difference between the official department policy and the unofficial departmental practice – Plaintiff testified that in actuality, if you made a complaint, you would be demoted.  Plaintiff backed up her testimony with specific evidence.  She testified that when discussing another employee’s complaint of sexual harassment, Sullivan told her that, “he just wanted this to go away.”  Plaintiff testified with respect to her complaint, she sent a detailed letter to the sheriff’s outside counsel, who forwarded the complaint to the Inspector General.  Plaintiff provided specific information in her letter, including providing the remarks made by Sullivan, “I said shut up – you Lying Bitch.”  Plaintiff also complained to Carmalita Wagner, the executive director of the Sheriff’s training academy.  Wagner told her that she needed to “take one” for the Sheriff.  The Court reversed, reasoning that the defendants did not satisfy their burden of showing the effectiveness of their formal policy.  The Court stated that “at the end of the day, the critical question before the jury was whether the Sherriff’s Department was put on notice of the misconduct, ‘not how the employer came to have that knowledge.’”  General Order 3.7A was not the only way an employee could raise a complaint of sexual harassment in the Sheriff’s Department.

Files Released in Boy Scout Sexual Abuse Case

While churches across the United States have been rocked with sexual molestation scandals, it appears that the Boy Scouts of America may be the next organization to battle many claims of sexual abuse.  Recently, a jury in Oregon awarded a victim $20 million due to sexual molestation from a scout master.  During the course of that litigation, the Oregon Supreme Court required that the Boy Scouts of America release files used as evidence in the case.  The Los Angeles Times reviewed more than 1,200 files between 1970 through 1991 - they found more than 125 claims where victims were abused after the Boy Scouts were alerted with allegations of sexual molestation by a scoutmaster.  The review indicated that the sexual offenders falsified data allowing them to join troops or jumped from troop to troop.  One scoutmaster was expelled in 1970 for sexually molesting a boy.  He was convicted of the crime, but was later able to join two other troops in Illinois.  We anticipate that there will be many lawsuits in Illinois and other states against the Boy Scouts of America for sexual abuse.

Joliet Priest, Reverend F. Lee Ryan, Removed From Ministry

Reverend F. Lee Ryan, a Joliet area priest, who had been removed from ministry, and later reinstated, has been removed once again.  The priests troubles started when a 52 year old man, now living in Florida, claimed that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the priest which lasted for more than a year, starting when the victim was 14.  The victim attended school at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox.  The Joliet Archdiocese indicated that the priest was not found guilty of violating church law.  Since that time, however, Joliet Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, decided to revoke his earlier permission to Ryan to perform ministerial duties.  This matter will be an interesting one to follow.

Joliet Priest Removed From Ministry Due to Sex Abuse Allegation

A former parish priest associated with Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Naperville was placed on leave after an allegation surfaced that the cleric allegedly abused a minor approximately two decades ago.  The priest, Reverend James Nowak, is retired.  Nowak was pastor of Saints Peter and Paul from June, 2002 to June, 2007.  The Archdiocese of Joliet has forwarded the matter to Rome for review.  There is no word at present as to whether criminal charges will be filed against the priest.

Hollander Law Office Files Suit Against the Archdiocese of Chicago for Priest Sexual Abuse

The Hollander Law Offices recently filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Chicago in the Circuit Court of Cook County for negligently supervising one of its priests, the former Father Daniel McCormack, regarding administering his priestly duties.  According to the allegations of the lawsuit, McCormack sexually abused two minor boys in the fall of 2004.  McCormack was criminally charged and pled guilty in August, 2005 regarding sexual abuse allegations of another minor child.  McCormack is currently incarcerated.  The Archdiocese was previously sued for other McCormack related incidents of sexual molestation and has settled a number of those claims.  This lawsuit is in its early stages.  The case is consolidated with similar cases alleging sexual abuse against the Archdiocese for discovery purposes.  We anticipate that the case will take approximately two years to resolve.

Fry’s to Shell Out $2.3 Million in Retaliation Lawsuit

Fry's Electronics, the nationwide retailer, will pay $2.3 million to settle a retaliation lawsuit brought against it by the federal government.  Ka Lam, a supervisor in a store in Washington, claimed that he was retaliated against when he alerted management that an assistant store manager was sending inappropriate text messages to a young sales associate.  Lam was terminated.  The company told him the reason was a decline in performance, though he was frequently recognized for doing a good job.  The size of this settlement for a single plaintiff case is very unusual.  Federal law typically caps punitive damages in most employment cases to $300,000.  Certain states have more favorable laws, allowing a plaintiff to seek more than the federal statutory cap.  Illinois is not one of those states.

Fair Wage Law Debated

Eugene Hollander was quoted on August 9, 2012 on Northwestern University's Medill Reports website concerning a proposed bill which would eliminate an exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act, (FLSA).  Under the FLSA, certain employers are entitled to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage.  The proposed bill would eliminate that exemption, and phase out certificates over the next few years which have been granted by the government.

Six Sales Representatives File Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Rogers Auto Group

Today, The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Rogers Auto Group, Inc., a car dealership located in the Bronzeville area of Chicago. The law firm represents Jermaine Thomas, Fred Redeaux, Abdulaziz Tayeh, Darius Fox, Charles Barnett, and Dion Turner. Tayeh is a Muslim and the other Plaintiffs are African American. The Plaintiffs allege that they were subjected to a racially hostile work environment by management. The Plaintiffs allege that they were subjected to racial slurs such as "boy," "porch monkey," and that Tayeh was subjected to references associating him with Osama Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and labelling him as a terrorist. After The Hollander Law Offices informed the dealership of the claims, the lawsuit alleges that it promptly terminated Thomas and Fox. Redeaux quit because of the way he was treated afterward, and has a claim pending for constructive discharge.  Tayeh also has a claim of religious discrimination which is pending with the EEOC.  Once served, the Defendant will have 21 days to file a response in court.  The story was featured on CBS Channel 2 Chicago.

Former Employee Files Racial Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit Against Al Piemonte Suzuki

The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander filed a civil rights lawsuit against Al Piemonte Suzuki on behalf of former employee Laurence "Lonnie" Phifer yesterday.  Phifer, an African American, had spent two decades working as a car salesman.  He was employed as a sales representative at the car dealership from August 15, 2011 through April 25, 2012.  According to the allegations in the lawsuit, Mr. Phifer was subjected to numerous racial insults by his white managers, who used the "N" word and made offensive racial jokes.  Oftentimes, management used the intercom system at the dealership to broadcast these racial epithets.  One of his managers text messaged racially offensive photos to him.  Mr. Phifer complained about the hostile work environment to management, but the dealership did nothing.  Toward the latter end of his employment, Mr. Phifer saw a racially offensive cartoon posted in the dealership.  On April 25, 2012, Al Piemonte Suzuki unlawfully retaliated against my client by terminating his employment for the purported reason of “low production.”  Mr. Phifer denies that his sales were low; rather, he was the top grossing salesman at the dealership at the time.   Mr. Phifer is presently unemployed.  Once served, the dealership will have 21 days to formally answer the Complaint.  The filing was widely covered in the media, including NBC, ABC and WGN.

Archdiocese of Chicago Settles Four Sex Abuse Cases for $8.1 Million

Four plaintiffs who claim that they were sexually abused by Father Daniel McCormack, a former priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, have settled their claims against the church for $8.1 million.  In 2007, McCormack pled guilty to sexually abusing several children.  The plaintiffs claimed that they were sexually abused between the ages of 11 and 13 when they attended St. Agatha Church on the west side of Chicago.  McCormack served as a pastor there.  The plaintiffs filed lawsuits in late, 2010.  The criminal case in which McCormack pled guilty did not involve these plaintiffs.