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Sangamon County Sheriff's Dep't v. State of Illinois Human Rights Commission

August 22, 2007

THE SANGAMON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
THE STATE OF ILLINOIS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION; DONNA FELECCIA, AND RON YANOR, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



Direct Administrative Review of the Illinois Human Rights Commission No. 1999SF0713.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht

Published opinion

Petitioner, the Sangamon County Sheriff's Department (Sheriff's Department), appeals an order of the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission), finding the Sheriff's Department strictly liable for respondent Ron Yanor's sexual harassment of respondent Donna Feleccia. We reverse.

I. BACKGROUND

On June 15, 1999, respondent Donna Feleccia filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (Department of Human Rights) alleging she had been sexually harassed. On August 19, 1999, Feleccia filed an amended charge alleging (1) sexual harassment on or about February 1, 1999, with a retaliatory motivation; (2) sexual harassment on or about February 1, 1999, that "created a hostile, embarrassing, and intimidating work environment"; and (3) "[d]ifferent terms and conditions continuing to August 18, 1999, because of retaliation," which occurred at such a time to raise the inference of retaliatory motivation. Feleccia named petitioner Sheriff's Department and respondent Ron Yanor as respondents in the amended charge of discrimination.

On July 18, 2000, the Commission filed a four-count complaint against the Sheriff's Department and Yanor. Count I alleged that the Sheriff's Department was an "employer" within the meaning of section 2-101(B)(1)(b) of the Illinois Human Rights Act (Act) (775 ILCS 5/2-101(B)(1)(b) (West 2000)) and Yanor was an "employee" within the meaning of section 2-101(A) of the Act (775 ILCS 5/2-101(A) (West 2000)). Count I further alleged Feleccia was "aggrieved by practices of retaliation and sexual harassment discrimination prohibited by [s]sections 6-101(A) and 2-102(D) of the Act." Specifically, count I alleged that (1) in December 1998, Feleccia opposed sexual harassment by declining Yanor's request to have sex with him; (2) that on February 1, 1999, Yanor wrote a ficticious letter addressed to Feleccia that stated she may have been exposed to a communicable or sexually transmitted disease; and (3) the Sheriff's Department harassed Feleccia in retaliation for opposing sexual harassment, in violation of section 6-101(A) of the Act. Count II adopted the same allegations as count I but was directed at Yanor.

Counts III and IV realleged the allegations in count I and alleged Yanor sexually harassed Feleccia by engaging in the following acts: (1) kissing her on November 19, 1998; (2) delivering a coffee cup with candy in it to Feleccia's home in December 1998; (3) asking her if she wanted to have sex with him in December 1998; and (4) sending Feleccia a ficticious letter that stated she may have been exposed to a communicable or sexually transmitted disease. Moreover, counts III and IV alleged the conduct created a hostile, intimidating, and offensive work environment. Those counts further alleged the Sheriff's Department and Yanor sexually harassed Feleccia in violation of section 2-102(D) of the Act and that the Sheriff's Department was strictly liable for Yanor's actions because Yanor was a member of management.

On November 13, 2000, the Sheriff's Department filed its verified answer. The Sheriff's Department denied it sexually harassed plaintiff and also denied strict liability should be imposed. Additionally, the Sheriff's Department set forth the following two affirmative defenses: (1) Feleccia failed to use the complaint procedure, i.e., the Sheriff's Department had a policy against sexual harassment in place at all relevant times and Feleccia did not initially report any of the first three incidents alleged in counts III and IV all of which occurred outside the workplace or were without witness, and (2) the Sheriff's Department took prompt remedial action, i.e., the Sheriff's Department launched an extensive investigation and took prompt remedial action against Yanor after learning he authored the ficticious letter.

Feleccia and Yanor settled; however the case against the Sheriff's Department continued.

The record reveals the following. Feleccia, now known as Donna Scroggin, has worked at the Sheriff's Department since 1992. Feleccia is a clerk in the records department, and in 1998 and 1999, her job was to enter data on warrants and orders of protection into the computer system. Lieutenant Sandra Hinsey, the highest ranking individual in the records department, was Feleccia's supervisor.

Feleccia met Yanor in 1992. Feleccia testified at the hearing before the administrative law judge (ALJ) that Yanor first sexually harassed her in November 1998 when he called her to go to Chantilly Lace, a local bar, after the annual "cigar dinner" the sheriff holds each year. Yanor allegedly stated a group of people were going to Chantilly Lace. Feleccia agreed to go because "we were friends" and she mistakenly thought Yanor's wife would be with him. Yanor picked her up and when they got to the bar no one else Feleccia knew was there. Only one other person Feleccia knew showed up, and Feleccia became uncomfortable and asked Yanor to take her home. Yanor agreed to take her home. When Feleccia tried to get out of the car, Yanor grabbed her arm and asked for a kiss. Feleccia responded "no, you're married." Yanor asked again and would not let go of her arm. Feleccia told Yanor "we're just friends." Again, Yanor would not let go of her arm, so she gave him a kiss and she then went up to her house. Feleccia stated the next time Yanor harassed her was in December 1998, when Yanor showed up to her house with a Christmas cup with candies in it. Feleccia's children answered the door and let him in. Yanor was on duty at the time.

The next incident occurred at Feleccia's friend MerriEllen King's December 1998 office Christmas party held at Chantilly Lace. Yanor was at the bar and Feleccia just said "hi" to him. Both Feleccia and King testified that Yanor glared at Feleccia while they danced. Eventually Yanor asked Feleccia if she wanted to dance with him, to which she responded "no." According to King, she and Feleccia left because Feleccia felt uncomfortable. Later, Feleccia told King that Yanor had been stopping by her desk at work and asking her to go out with him. According to Feleccia, the next incident, also in December 1998, occurred when Yanor stopped by her desk when she was by herself and asked if she "would like to go to a motel with him for the night." Feleccia said "no" and told him "[w]e will always just be friends" and "you're married. I've always told you just friends."

On February 5, 1999, Feleccia received a envelope on her desk. The envelope contained a letter, dated January 29, 1999, which stated the following:

"This is to inform you that you may have recently been exposed to a communicable or sexually transmitted disease. A confidential source who has tested positive has brought this matter to our attention.

To insure your privacy, your file has been assigned a control number of #A23759. Please refer to this in future correspondence.

It is important that you schedule a screening within the next 7 days. Please contact your local public health office for an appointment. This ...


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