Defending a Sexual Harassment Claim

The news lately has been flooded with stories about sexual harassment in the workplace. While these stories are considered newsworthy, the fact of the matter is sexual harassment claims are filed every day in Illinois either through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) or the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”). When faced with a sexual harassment claim, whether filed through the EEOC or IDHR, Illinois employers must respond.

A claim filed with the EEOC requires the employer to file a position statement and provide facts and evidence sexual harassment did not occur. Claims filed with the EEOC can result in one of three outcomes: the EEOC can find substantial evidence of a violation and prosecute a given claim; the EEOC can find substantial evidence of a violation but decline to prosecute a claim and instead issue a right to sue letter; or the EEOC can not find substantial evidence of a violation and issue a right to sue letter. The goal for an employer is for the EEOC to not find substantial evidence of a violation and issue the right to sue letter. When that occurs it makes it more unlikely a lawsuit will later be filed as the EEOC has made a determination there was no statutory violation.

A claim filed with the IDHR is slightly different. While an employer must still file a position statement in response to a sexual harassment claim, an employer must also answer the complaint filed and also provide certain information the EEOC might not request until a later date. The IDHR usually conducts a fact-finding conference, which does not always occur with the EEOC. If the information presented at the fact-finding conference conflicts, the IDHR lacks the EEOC’s ability to terminate the matter at that point and will usually find substantial evidence and move the matter forward. This makes the IDHR a more difficult agency to deal with for the employer because unless the employer can win the matter quickly as a matter of law, the IDHR will move the claim forward.

In either case, it is imperative the employer stake out its position as early in the process as possible. By setting forth a strong position at the outset, the employer reclaims some leverage and opens up the possibility of defeating the claim or making any settlement option which may present itself more favorable.

Both the IDHR and EEOC offer mediation or other settlement options when a sexual harassment claim is filed. Employers must make a determination early on whether they want to explore settlement as opposed to attempting to litigate the matter. Considerations that go into deciding whether to settle a given claim include likelihood of success defending the claim and litigation costs.

If faced with a sexual harassment claim, Illinois employers will need an attorney to protect their interests. The attorneys at Lavelle Law, Ltd. have extensive experience defending sexual harassment claims.

Please feel free to contact Lance Ziebell of Lavelle Law at (847) 705-7555 if you have questions regarding any claim you receive from the EEOC or IDHR.