Sexual Insults Do Not Amount To Harassment Under Illinois Law

Haydee Martinez, who is a lesbian, was hired in November 2001 by Northwestern University in Illinois. In 2003, Martinez began reporting to Sergeant Timothy Reuss, a heterosexual male, who was aware of her sexual orientation from at least the time he became her supervisor. Martinez alleged that from March 2003 to March 2011, Reuss often used the terms “fag,” “faggot,” “pussy,” “cocksucker,” and “sissy” in her presence when referring to offenders or students.

Eventually, Martinez filed a lawsuit against the University, contending that Reuss’s comments amounted to a sexual harassment and/or a hostile work environment under the Illinois Human Rights Act. A federal court rejected the claim, ruling that the comments did not meet the appropriate definitions.

The Court held that the Illinois statute defines sexual harassment as “any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. Martinez alleges that Reuss harassed her based on her sexual orientation as a lesbian in violation of the law. According to her complaint, this harassment consisted of Reuss’s use of the inappropriate words, comments he made to another gay officer concerning a sick day Martinez had taken, and falsely altering one of Martinez’s time-sheets.

“The University is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the Illinois statute does not provide a cause of action for a hostile work environment based on sexual orientation harassment. The conduct and actions Martinez points to in support of her hostile work environment claim do not qualify as, nor does Martinez argue that they are, ‘sexual advances,’ ‘requests for sexual favors,’ or ‘conduct of a sexual nature.’ Because the plain language of the state law requires a hostile work environment claim to be based on sexual harassment, and Martinez has not identified (or even pled) any evidence of sexual harassment, the University’s motion for summary judgment is granted.”

Martinez v. Northwestern University, 2016 WL 1213913 (N.D. Ill. 2016).