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Ignoring harassment? You may be hit with more than claims

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Ignore complaints about any kind of harassment, and you may soon find that the employee who complained will hit your organization with more than just claims under federal Title VII and the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA). He or she also may sue for common-law claims like assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Why add those types of claims? More money! Juries can award unlimited damages for common-law violations. Plus, punitive damages can hit the stratosphere.

Recent case: Lauren Hobson worked for a property management firm. After she transferred to a new building, she claimed the supervisor there made her life miserable.

Hobson said he constantly pulled her ponytail, asked whether she was wearing matching underwear and called her a “stupid little girl,” “weird” and “insecure.” She said he also made comments about her newlywed status, joked about her sex life and commented about her weight.

Hobson claims that management told her she had three options: She could (1) resign, (2) accept a transfer or (3) continue her job with the harassing supervisor. Before she got a chance to pick, the company fired her.

Hobson sued, but her attorney didn’t stick to just Title VII and IHRA harassment claims. He added Illinois common-law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery.

The federal trial court considering Hobson’s case said those claims could go to a jury, concluding that the behavior she described went beyond sexual harassment. The judge said a jury could very well conclude that the supervisor’s behavior was outrageous and the company’s response added to her distress. (Hobson v. Tishman Properties, No. 07-C-5744, ND IL, 2008)

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