Employer Not Strictly Liable For Harassment By Supervisor Not In Victim’s Chain Of Command

Donna Feleccia was a clerk in the Sangamon County, Illinois Sheriff’s Department. Ron Yanor is a sergeant in the Department, but is not in Feleccia’s chain of command.

Feleccia alleged that over the course of 1998, Yanor sexually harassed Feleccia by engaging in the following acts: (1) Kissing her without her consent; (2) delivering a coffee cup with candy in it to her home; (3) asking her if she wanted to have sex with him; and (4) sending her a fictitious letter that stated she may have been exposed to a communicable or sexually-transmitted disease.

When the Sheriff’s Department learned of Yanor’s conduct, it suspended him for four days. Feleccia, not satisfied with that result, filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, contending that the County was strictly liable for Yanor’s conduct.

The Illinois Court of Appeals rejected Feleccia’s claim. Feleccia argued that Illinois law imposes strict liability on employers when an employee has been sexually harassed by a supervisor regardless of whether the employer knew of the offending conduct. While the Court agreed that generally “this proposition is correct,” it also noted that all the prior cases standing for the proposition involved supervisors who had direct management control over the employee. In the Court’s eyes, Illinois law “does not provide guidance as to who is a manager or supervisor for purposes of imposing strict liability on an employer for the actions of a managerial or supervisory employee.”

In the Court’s judgment, a manager or supervisor is “any individual having authority to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, discipline, and handle grievances of other employees, by exercising independent judgment. Yanor did not possess any of these powers as they relate to Feleccia and thus the Sheriff’s Department is not strictly liable for his actions. Instead, Yanor was a co-employee of Feleccia’s. As such, the Sheriff’s Department is only liable for his harassment of Feleccia if the Sheriff’s Department knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take reasonable corrective measures. Here, the evidence shows the Sheriff’s Department took corrective measures upon learning of Yanor’s harassment of Feleccia. It launched an investigation into who wrote the fictitious Department of Public Health letter. Upon learning Yanor was the author of the letter, the Department suspended Yanor.”

Because it concluded that the Department took appropriate remedial measures, the Court dismissed Feleccia’s claim against the Department.

Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department v. State of Illinois Human Rights Commission, 2007 WL 2428806 (Ill.App. 2007).

This article appears in the October 2007 issue