Righter, McConnaughay seek solutions to curbing harassment at task force hearing
Sens. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) and Karen McConnaughay (R-St. Charles) wanted to know more about how to handle harassment issues at a recent hearing of Sexual Harassment Prevention Task Force.
At the hearing, Keith Hunt, an attorney and principal with Hunt & Associates, spoke about a case involving Ford Motor Co. This is not Ford’s first rodeo, Hunt, who represented 50 women with claims of discrimination and retaliation against Ford that date back to 1995, said.
Though Hunt settled with two Ford plants in Illinois and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and 14 named plaintiffs in 2002, several of the lawsuit's stipulations to further protect women were never followed.
“As soon as the EEOC monitors left, so did Ford’s commitment to address sexual harassment,” Hunt said.
Imposing individual liability upon the actors and prohibiting the Sunset provision, which allows for confidential sexual harassment settlements, are at least two actions that can be taken to help halt sexual harassment, Hunt said.
“The suggestions that you made at the toward tail end of your testimony so far as remedies to victims, are those remedies for victims who work in state government or regardless of whether they are private or public-sector employees?” Righter asked. “This task force is an outgrowth of something that happened in state government, so that is the context in which I am asking.”
Hunt said the only suggestion he had that would be limited in the public sector is the elimination of tort immunity.
“Every other suggestion should apply to all employees in the state whether they work for private company or for a state agency or local municipality,” Hunt said.
The next hour and half of the hearing included witnesses detailing being groped and grabbed, being asked for sexual favors and threatened with physical assault at the Chicago Stamping Plant by union officials, as well as the retaliation that occurred when they reported the harassing behavior to human resources.
Expressing their fears, with many in tears, each woman told their separate stories, ending with pleas for lawmakers to take action regarding sexual harassment claims in HR783, a bill sponsored by Rep. Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) regarding the issue at Ford.
At the close of the meeting, McConnaughay said clearly what the task force had heard was that there are bad actors on the management side as well as the labor side in the public sector as well as in the private sector in the never ending additional complexity to the issue.
“I have to believe there are employers out there that are the good actors, that are the gold star for zero tolerance,” McConnaughy said before asking. “Are we going to hear from them, because I would like to hear from someone who gets it right to help us figure it out.”
Co-chair Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) told McConnaughay the task force has upcoming working group on best practices.
“What we learned from the EEOC is that a direct manager is liable under that for knowing that there was sexual harassment going on,” Tracy said.
McConnaughay said she is not as concerned with the legalities or mechanisms rather than the ethos of the working environment.
“The culture that is shared by ownership, management, employees and by everybody,” McConnaughay said. “Everybody shares in the no tolerance culture. Those companies, those entities have to exist out there.”