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Can I Sue My Employer for Creating a Hostile Work Environment?

Posted on March 11, 2020 in Hostile Work Environment

When you go to work, it is reasonable to expect that your employer treats you with fairness and respect. However, not all work environments live up to this standard — and in serious cases, your employer may bring a degree of hostility to the workplace, causing significant emotional damage to you and your coworkers and making your position a highly undesirable one to be in.

Seeking compensation for the emotional, financial, and physical damages a hostile workplace imposes on you is possible through a civil lawsuit, under certain circumstances. In Illinois, you can bring your employer to court if he or she creates a hostile work environment based on discrimination or retaliation.

Can i sue my employer for creating a hostile work environment?

What Does a Hostile Work Environment Look Like?

An employer creates a hostile work environment if he or she acts in such a way that subjects you, the employee, to severe and pervasive treatment that is enough to alter the terms and conditions of your employment. Your employer may be harassing you or your colleagues based on an actual or perceived trait protected by law, or retaliation for taking action against such discrimination.

Protected traits include sex, race, color, pregnancy, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ethnicity. Examples of conduct that can create a hostile work environment includes, but is not limited to, the following actions.

  • Treating employees in a rude or demeaning manner
  • Physical assaults or threats of physical assault
  • Name calling or discriminatory jokes and comments
  • Holding certain employees to unrealistic standards than others
  • Giving poor performance reviews on an unfounded basis
  • Micromanaging certain employees over others
  • Witnessing your employer harass or discriminate against other employees, even if you were not the target

Proving a Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit

If you believe that your employer is creating a hostile work environment based on retaliation or discrimination against one or more of the protected classes listed above, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit against him or her. To successfully prove a hostile work environment claim, you and your attorney will need to gather sufficient evidence to prove the following elements

  • First, you will need to prove that you or the employees that your employer discriminated against are members of a protected class, as outlined above.
  • Next, you will need to prove that you or the employees who experienced the discrimination were subject to unwanted and unwelcome verbal and physical conduct from your employer.
  • Next, you will need to prove that your employer committed the unwelcome conduct due to the fact that you or the employees who were the target of the conduct were members of a protected class.
  • Finally, you will need to prove that the unwelcome conduct affected the terms, conditions, and privileges of the employment for you or the employees who experienced the conduct.

Proving these elements can be difficult without an attorney’s guidance and the proper evidence. Since many instances of discrimination are verbal and fleeting, it may not be possible to present tangible evidence to the court. Hiring a lawyer to advise you on whether or not your case can form the basis of a lawyer and to help you identify and gather the necessary pieces of evidence is a crucial step.

What to Do If You Are Experiencing a Hostile Work Environment

If you are subject to a hostile environment at your workplace, you have legal options available to you if the hostility stems from discrimination or retaliation. While you are still employed in that environment, take the time to collect as much evidence as you can, including emails, messages, and contact information from witnesses. Before recording your employer, talk to your Chicago employment lawyer about the potential legal ramifications.

Most importantly, contact an Illinois employment attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. Your lawyer can help you determine whether or not you have the option to file a lawsuit based on the circumstances, assist you with the filing and evidence collection processes, and represent your best interests in the courtroom or at the negotiating table.