An Illinois employer can be held strictly liable for the sexual harassment of an employee by a supervisor--even if the supervisor has no direct authority over the victim--following an April 16 decision by the Illinois Supreme Court. The ruling in Sangamon County Sheriff's Department v. The Illinois Human Rights Commission marks a significant departure from the way federal courts have interpreted sexual harassment cases under Title VII, and from the way courts have interpreted other states' sexual harassment laws.
"The ruling makes Illinois the most expansive jurisdiction on the planet with regard to imputing liability to an employer based on a supervisor's harassment," says David Christlieb, a lawyer at Littler Mendelson. "As Judge [Lloyd] Karmeier noted in his dissent, this standard of liability not only departs from federal law, it is without precedent in any jurisdiction in the United States."
A Revised Reading
In reversing the appellate court's decision, the Illinois Supreme Court said the plain language of the Illinois Human Rights Act did not differentiate between harassers who are direct supervisors and those who are not. The court added that the act "should be construed liberally to achieve its purpose--the prevention of sexual harassment in employment for all individuals."