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August 2013

Gordon & Rees Chicago Team Wins Summary Judgment on Same-Sex Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation Claims

Gordon & Rees Chicago office managing partner Hayes Ryan and senior counsel Patrick Moran won summary judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of the firm’s client and against the client’s former employee.

The former employee acted as a salesman for Gordon & Rees’s client and alleged that his male supervisor sexually harassed him by creating a hostile work environment because of the former employee’s sex. The former employee alleged on numerous occasions that the supervisor berated and belittled him using profanity that carried sexual connotations. The former employee also alleged that on discrete occasions, the supervisor physically touched him in a manner he perceived as sexual in nature. The former employee alleged that on many occasions he asked the supervisor to stop this behavior, but could not get a reprieve. The employee presented his complaints to the owner of the company, and, at the same time, presented the owner with a draft severance agreement for the owner to sign. In response, the owner conducted an investigation. Based on what he learned, the owner determined that the employee’s complaints lacked merit and the owner suspected that he was being extorted for a severance. The owner made the decision to terminate the employment less than two weeks after hearing of the complaints and specifically wrote in the employee’s termination letter that he believed the complaints to be false.

When the former employee sued Gordon & Rees’s client, he alleged violations of Title VII for the underlying harassment, but also retaliation in violation of Title VII for the owner’s decision to terminate employment based on the employee’s complaints.

After two years of hard-fought litigation, including a nearly seven-figure settlement demand, on July 22, U.S. District Judge Frederick Kapala issued a ruling granting Gordon & Rees’s client’s motion for summary judgment on all federal claims. Judge Kapala’s decision dissected and discussed the merits of the employee’s underlying same-sex sexual harassment claim and correctly decided that the employee had not established the basis of that claim. The employee failed to demonstrate that the supervisor’s comments were more than locker room talk.

The decision is most noteworthy, however, in that Judge Kapala granted summary judgment to the employer on the employee’s retaliation claims despite the employer’s admission it relied on the employee’s complaints in making the decision to terminate employment. In reaching the decision on the employee’s retaliation claims, Judge Kapala concluded that “no reasonable employee could conclude” that the supervisor’s conduct was gender-based. This ruling adopted the arguments developed by Gordon & Rees during the litigation that the employee could not have had a good-faith belief in his complaints.

Gordon & Rees’s client is exceptionally pleased with the result and Gordon & Rees has already filed the Fed.R.Civ.P. 54 Bill of Costs on behalf of the client.

J. Hayes Ryan