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Workplace Harassment Claims: Lack of Intent is No Excuse

On Behalf of | Jun 28, 2017 | Firm News

Employees have a legal right to work in conditions that are free from any harassment that is motivated by illegal reasons such as race or gender. Whether it is sexual harassment, verbal abuse on racial or some form of physical bullying, the harassment needs to stop now.

Harassment is not always a clear cut issue to all parties involved. The harassers often claim that they did nothing wrong. Indeed, many employees report being subject to unlawful harassment in the form of jokes. Their bosses or coworkers tell them to “lighten up” and that they “were just kidding around”. This is no excuse.

If you were a victim of workplace harassment on the grounds of a protected status, you have legal options available. It does not matter if it was only a joke. Impact matters, not intent. To speak to an experienced Chicago workplace harassment attorney about your case, please contact Goldman & Ehrlich today.


Employee Rights: Protected Statuses

It must be made clear that unlawful harassment is distinct from mean comments or generally unpleasant behavior. State and federal labor laws do not seek to regulate kindness in the workplace. Instead, for conduct to qualify as unlawful harassment, it must implicate one of the employee’s legally protected statuses. If the offensive behavior in your case addresses any of the following, either directly or indirectly, you may have a valid hostile work environment claim:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Citizenship status
  • Gender
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Age
  • Pregnancy status
  • Veteran status
  • Marital status


Impact Matters, Not Intent

Malicious intent is not the key issue in hostile work environment claims. What might be a good-hearted, funny joke to the perpetrator might be downright hurtful to others. The impact on the victimized employee is what matters, not the intent of the alleged harassers. Notably, important employee rights legislation such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that conduct be ‘severe or pervasive’ before it becomes unlawful harassment. If joking behavior is especially offensive, or if it continues without the employer putting a stop to it, then the victimized employee would have a viable legal claim.

Get Employment Law Assistance Today

At Goldman & Ehrlich, our Chicago employment discrimination attorneys have extensive experience handling all types of workplace harassment claims. For immediate assistance with your case, please us today at 312-332-6733 to set up your confidential case evaluation. We represent workers throughout the region, including in Rockford, Joliet and Naperville.

Call Today: 312-332-6733

Temporal Proximity and Retaliation Claims

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits employers from taking retaliatory action against employees for exercising their legal rights when making complaints about illegal actions. For example, if an employee complains about sexual harassment or race discrimination in the workplace to their supervisor, the employer may not retaliate or take any adverse action to punish the employee for making the complaint.

Of course, most employers are aware of the general rules that prohibited retaliation. As such, bad acting employers rarely admit to retaliation. Instead, they make up a pretextual reason to take action against the employee. This can make retaliation claims challenging. Here, our experienced Chicago workplace retaliation lawyers discuss temporal proximity, a concept that can be used to help link an adverse action to a protected activity.


What is Temporal Proximity?

The legal term ‘temporal proximity’ simply refers to the closeness in time of two events. This concept can be very important in many retaliation claims, as employers will frequently attempt to cover their tracks by trying to disguise their retaliation as legitimate discipline, or claim the employee had poor performance. For a better understanding of how it works, consider the following example: On July 1st, a female employee at a Chicago company files a sexual harassment claim against her boss. Notably, she has worked at this firm for more than ten years without problems. On July 21st, she is fired from the company for “poor performance”. Certainly, poor performance is a valid reason to terminate a worker, if true. However, as these two events are very close in time, there is strong implication that the termination was based on her complaint of harassment.


Temporal Proximity is Rarely Dispositive

In the vast majority of cases, temporal proximity is simply one piece (albeit an important piece) of the larger puzzle. It typically must be put together with additional evidence. But the closer the employee’s protected activity is to the adverse action, the more likely the court will find that termination was based on the protected complaint, and that the claims of performance were only a pretext made up by the employer. If you believe your employer made up a pretextual reason to take adverse action against you, you need to speak to an experienced attorney immediately.


Contact Our Office Today

At Goldman & Ehrlich, our Chicago employee rights attorneys have extensive experience handling retaliation claims in both Illinois and Southwestern Michigan. If you need help with your retaliation claim, please call us today at 312-332-6733 or contact us directly through our website to request your fully confidential initial legal consultation.