Legal Trends Newsletter – December 2016

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Legal Trends Highlights Sexual Abuse Lawsuit and Employment Discrimination Case.

In this issue of Legal Trends, we discuss two recent court filings by The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander – one involves a sexual molestation case against Orland School District 135 and the other claim is an employment discrimination case against Fieldwork Chicago.

Tort Law

Hollander Law Offices Files Suit Against Orland School District 135 In Sexual Abuse Case.

By outward appearances, teacher and basketball coach Cara Labus was a doting individual upon her students and players when she was assigned to Jerling Junior High School within Orland School District 135. That image was shattered in January, 2015, when Labus was indicted on four counts of sexual assault upon two former girls who were students of the school.

On October 19, 2016, the girls, known in court documents only as Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe No. 2, filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County against the school district and the teacher’s ex-husband for the alleged molestation. As of the date of this newsletter, neither defendant has formally responded to the allegations.

In their suit, the girls alleged that they played on the girls’ basketball team when they attended Jerling. Once they graduated from Jerling, both girls returned to assistant coach with Labus. The girls claim that from 2008 – 2012, Labus sexually abused them multiple times, including times at her home when her then husband was present.

The girls’ claims against the district are subject to a higher standard than those against Labus’s ex-husband, Travis Powers. Under Illinois law, the girls are required to prove that the district acted in a willful and wanton manner. We believe that the evidence in the case will be that a former school superintendent warned a school official about Labus’ alleged criminal behavior, but that the district failed to properly act upon the admonition. The girls claim that they were sexually abused after this warning was made.

The claim against Powers is based upon ordinary negligence. Should the girls recover against Powers, the claims would likely be covered by the homeowners insurance that he had in place at the time.

Regardless, the girls’ damages are substantial. Labus’s alleged activity included grooming the girls, meaning that she engaged in various activities to gain their trust before she allegedly sexually assaulted them. The grooming behavior alleged to have occurred in this case included taking the girls out to dinner and giving them gifts. Research has shown that when the assailant grooms her victims, the victims suffer far greater emotional trauma as the trust factor is broken between the perpetrator and the victim.

Prior to her indictment, Labus left the Orland Park School District and became a teacher in Joliet. As of the date of this newsletter, Labus’ criminal case is still pending. Should she plead guilty to the charges, it would aid the girls in their civil case. Regardless, there is ample incriminating evidence against Labus, including inappropriate photographs of her and the girls, as well as text messages that she exchanged with them.

Employment Law

Hollander Law Offices Files Suit Against Fieldwork Chicago and Others for Sexual Harassment.

In a case strongly reminiscent of the 1994 movie, “Disclosure,” which starred Demi Moore and Michael Douglas, on November 28, 2016, the Hollander Law Offices filed a lawsuit against a Chicago man’s former employer and female supervisor, alleging that he was sexually harassed by her and that the company terminated him after he complained of her unlawful behavior.

In March, 2011, Mario Morris started work with Fieldwork Chicago as a recruiter. He was later promoted to trainer, and in 2014, was promoted to Human Resources Manager. Karyn Picchiotti was the President of the company. Morris contends that beginning in 2013, Picchiotti began making sexual advances toward him.

Morris claims that on one occasion Picchiotti offered to give him a ride home, but then suggested that they stop at her home. While there, Morris contends that Picchiotti attempted to proposition him, which he rebuffed.

Morris also alleges that Picchiotti repeatedly referred to him as her “boytoy,” and on other occasions, told him not to hire young female employees.

On December 9, 2015, Morris e-mailed Steven Raebel, President of Fieldwork’s parent company, and claimed that he was being sexually harassed. In his e-mail, Morris also told Raebel that he was fearful of being retaliated against. Raebel acknowledged receiving Morris’s correspondence, and replied that “these are very serious accusations,” and that the company takes “these concerns very seriously.”

Morris claims that after he complained to Raebel, Picchiotti began retaliating against him by berating him in front of the entire office, taking away various job duties, and kicking him out of the annual Christmas party. A few days later, Morris sent Raebel another e-mail telling him that Picchiotti was further retaliating against him by changing his schedule.

On February 1, 2016, Fieldwork terminated Morris’s employment for the purported reason that he was “not doing his job correctly.” A review of Morris’s personnel revealed that any such write-ups did not exist.

In his twelve count lawsuit, Morris sued his employer, the parent company, Raebel, Vice-President Carlos Martinez and Picchiotti. Many of the claims were brought under federal law, which places a cap on compensatory and punitive damages based on the size of the employer.

Morris also filed a number of state law claims, which if successful, would circumvent the federal statutory cap. For instance, Morris brought claims under the Illinois Gender Violence Act, (“IGVA”). Under the IGVA, if Morris proves that Picchiotti assaulted or battered him in a sexual manner, a jury could award punitive damages without being subject to any ceiling.

Morris also brought an IGVA claim against his employer – most courts hold that an IGVA claim will not lie against an employer, only the harasser. Exceptions have been made, however, where the facts support a theory that the employer assisted or encouraged the unlawful behavior.

Similarly, Morris contends that Fieldwork was negligent in hiring and supervising Picchiotti. If he prevails on this claim, Morris would similarly not be subjected to any caps for compensatory and/or punitive damages.

We will keep you updated on this very interesting case.

Office News

Eugene K. Hollander was selected as an Illinois Super Lawyer for 2017 in the field of employment litigation, marking the thirteenth consecutive year that he has received this honor. On December 1, Eugene Hollander addressed young lawyers attending IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Solo & Small Practice Incubator program at the law school.