After a two-week trial, a Cook County jury took just two hours to award a former Country Club Hills firefighter $11.2 million in damages for sexual harassment in the work place. The jury award includes $8 million for emotional and mental suffering, $1.85 million for future lost earnings, $2 million for reputational harm and loss of professional standing, $78,000 for denials of promotions, and $50,000 for medical counseling. The verdict emphasizes the critical importance of compliance with sex harassment policies and procedures in schools and municipalities.
The plaintiff, Dena Lewis, began working as a firefighter for Country Club Hills in 1998. In August 2012, she filed a lawsuit against the city alleging years of sexual harassment and sex discrimination in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act. Lewis alleged that the former fire chief propositioned her for sex on her first day on the job. She also alleged that male firefighters watched pornography at the fire station, exposed themselves to her, and made inappropriate romantic and physical advances toward her. Lewis claimed that when she reported this alleged inappropriate conduct to her supervisor, she received a written reprimand.
This case illustrates the importance of taking sexual harassment complaints seriously and investigating them thoroughly. Additionally, employees who make good faith complaints of sexual harassment should not be retaliated against for making a complaint.