The Chicago Employment Law Blog

Man Called 'Transylvanian Whore,' Sexually Harassed by Boss

This, my friends, is a sexual harassment case that really demonstrates "the line." Clifford Harris once worked for a company called Electro-Motive Diesel in Northern Illinois. They manufacture trains. According to the Courthouse News Service, he was employed by Electro for four years until he was fired, allegedly due his sexual harassment complaint.

The conduct began back in 2010. On February 20 of that year, Harris discovered that unidentified vandals had targeted his locker. In addition to hanging a liquid-filled condom in the locker, they also inscribed the following taunts in yellow paint:

Though Harris complained to his boss, the suspects behind the anti-vampire graffiti were never apprehended. Things only got worse from there.

In mid-April of that same year, Harris got a new supervisor. He asked that new supervisor, John Holmes, why he hadn't been paid for some overtime hours that he had already completed. Holmes told Harris that he would look into the matter, and allegedly informed Harris that he was sexy.

Harris was shocked and appalled. He declared that the sexual advance was unwelcome and denied his own sexiness.

Later that day, the situation escalated when that same supervisor, Mr. Holmes, came up behind Mr. Harris and placed his hand upon the victim's shoulder. Such conduct made Harris uncomfortable and frightened, so he filed a sexual harassment complaint with the manager of labor relations.

At this point, we're not sure if the action qualified as sexual harassment. After all, Holmes merely touched his shoulder. Granted, it was after calling him "sexy," but still.

(We've all known that guy. The guy that will just start rubbing your shoulders for no reason. It's irritating, but not quite overt sexual harassment.)

Then things got worse. Three days after the complaint was filed, Mr. Holmes reportedly rubbed his body against Harris, and asked, "Did that scare you?" There are allegedly witnesses.

Okay, now we're convinced. The line in sexual harassment cases between co-workers inappropriately joking around and actual harassment can be blurry. But after a complaint is filed, a little bump and grind is almost certainly crossing the line.

So is retaliatory discharge. Harris was asked to work overtime with Holmes that weekend. He claims he refused, citing his fear of his boss. When he next showed up for a scheduled shift, he was fired for "agreeing" to show up for overtime and ditching work.

Now we've got a solid, actionable claim. The vampire stuff is probably irrelevant; it happened before Holmes entered the picture. Still, it does give more credence to the workplace's tolerance for employee-on-employee harassment.

Clifford Harris is claiming post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional harm, sexual harassment, and retaliation. This should be interesting.

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