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Beware state law that could cost you millions

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Management Training

If you need additional incentives to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, how’s this for a motivator: A court has ruled that employees who endure gender-related violence can now sue their employers for damages under the Illinois Gender Violence Act.

Recent case: Monica Cruz worked for a temp agency and was assigned to Hot Mama’s Natural Foods. She alleged that her supervisor pushed himself up against her while she was working so that she could feel his penis. Later, he told Cruz to get something from the walk-in freezer and followed her in, where he grabbed and squeezed her buttocks. She told a co-worker, who told her that other women had complained to management about the man to no avail.

When the supervisor grabbed her again, she told him she was going to report his conduct. He replied that nothing ever comes of complaints and that he would continue grabbing her.

Cruz did complain to management. Shortly after, the temp agency suggested it would be best if she didn’t work at Hot Mama’s anymore.

Cruz sued, alleging that both the temp agency and Hot Mama’s were liable for sexual harassment and for aiding the commission of gender violence under the Illinois Gender Violence Act.

The court agreed that, under the circumstances (i.e., prior ignored complaints and physical sexually oriented assaults) her case could go forward. (Cruz v. Primary Staffing, et al., No. 10-C-5653, ND IL, 2011)

Final note: Why should employers worry about this development? Unlike Title VII claims that have built-in caps to jury awards, state law claims like this one do not. The sky’s the limit on liability. If a jury believes the harassment was serious and degrading enough, it may try to send a powerful message to employers—one that could cost millions.

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