Restaurant Sexual Case Demonstrates How Hostile Workplace Can Get Says Chicago Employment Lawyer
Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) January 24, 2012 - Often sexual harassment takes on many faces. It did in this case.
“Over the years of practicing employment law, I have seen a good number of harassment cases. However, this one is quite offensive, and demonstrates just how far some people go outside the bounds of decency, and the law relating to harassment,” remarked Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace.
Demetri Alexander filed a complaint with the Chicago Human Rights Commission against Russell Scalise, Scott Schwab and the 1212 Restaurant Group. The complaint alleged harassment and wrongful termination due to perceived sexual orientation. The initial hearing on this complaint found Alexander was not terminated based on perceived sexual orientation, but was harassed and working in a hostile workplace based on the perception of his sexual orientation.
The Commission awarded Alexander more than $259,000, including punitive damages and damages for emotional injury. The circuit upheld the Commission’s findings and awards. But then Scalise, Schwab and 1212 appealed. On appeal the court affirmed the circuit court’s original ruling.
Alexander and a man named Richard Daniels formed a partnership in 1998 to build a restaurant. Scalise wanted in on the project and later, Schwab also came on board. Alexander was to be the creative director and front house manager for the fancy 1212 restaurant. While the restaurant was being built, Alexander’s foot was crushed by a heavy piece of equipment. He was on crutches, required several surgeries and had a long recovery. When the restaurant opened in 2000, he was fired. Alexander filed a harassment and wrongful termination complaint based on perceived sexual orientation, disability and race.
At a hearing on this complaint, Alexander indicated Scalise and Schwab suggested he was a homosexual, called him rude, ugly names and continually said he participated in sex acts with other men. Such comments were made in front of customers, contractors and staff. Schwab apparently left phone messages saying the same things on Alexander’s answering machine.
“Apparently Schwab and Scalise called him very ugly names every day. They intimidated him in public and were as offensive as they could possibly be,” recounted Coffey.
Although the pair was asked repeatedly to cease and desist with their comments, things got worse instead of better. If Alexander was seen talking to a man, the pair would insist he was having a sexual encounter. The result of this egregious behavior was vomiting, nauseas, headaches, anxiety, humiliation and demoralization. Alexander was not a homosexual.
Neither of Alexander’s harassers felt they had done anything wrong and agreed that the accounts of what they were alleged to have said to him were accurate. Additionally, there were many witnesses who overheard the comments. Both harassers were satisfied with Alexander’s work performance but gave conflicting reasons for his termination. One said he did not show up for work, a fact that was proven to be false. The other man said he had come to work on drugs and acted up. This too was proven to be false.
The Commission found Alexander's termination was not based on his perceived sexual orientation, but found that Scalise, Schwab, and 1212 violated the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance by creating and tolerating a hostile work environment based upon Alexander's perceived sexual orientation. In 2010, the Circuit Court upheld the Commission's findings.
On appeal, the court upheld the Commission’s findings, indicating the record clearly supported their conclusions. Additionally, Alexander’s testimony was corroborated by physical evidence, medical records and many witnesses who overheard the sexual epithets and saw the malicious actions of the two men. “In this case, the court assessed punitive damages, which are typically awarded to punish someone responsible for wrongful conduct, and teach them not to repeat that conduct, as well as stop others from doing the same thing,” explained Coffey.
Sexual harassment cases can be a mixture of many things, and thus tend to be complex. It is exactly this kind of case that needs an experienced Chicago employment lawyer at the helm. “If you have been in a similar situation to this, and sadly, it appears many have been, call me. I can tell you precisely what we need to do to ensure you get justice,” added Coffey.
Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit Employmentlawcounsel.com.
THE COFFEY LAW OFFICE, P.C.
351 W. Hubbard Street, Suite 602
Chicago, IL 60654
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