Legal Trends Newsletter – October 2017

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Legal Trends Highlights Recent Court Filings and Weinstein Sexual Harassment Story.

In this issue of Legal Trends, we spotlight four new sexual abuse claims filed against the Archdiocese of Chicago and corresponding developments. We also focus on the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal and its’ resulting fallout.

Tort Law

Hollander Law Offices Files Four New Sexual Abuse Lawsuits Against the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Within the last few weeks, four alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County against the Archdiocese of Chicago and defrocked priest, Daniel McCormack. Daniel McCormack pled guilty to sexually abusing five victims in 2007 and was sentenced to five years in prison. Since completing his sentence, he has been committed to the Rushville Treatment and Detention Facility.

Eugene K. Hollander represents these victims, all of whom are in their early 30s. Two of the victims allege that McCormack sexually abused them while they were enrolled in school at St. Ailbe’s Parish. The other two victims claim that they were sexually abused by McCormack while they played basketball at St. Agatha’s Parish.

All of the victims all claim that they have suffered emotional distress as a result of the alleged abuse.

These case filings came at the time Cook County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Porter held a hearing to determine whether McCormack could be indefinitely committed for mental health treatment pursuant to the Sexually Violent Persons Act. On September 8th, Judge Porter answered that question in the affirmative, finding that that there was a “substantial probability” McCormack would reoffend if released from custody. A further hearing is scheduled for November

Eugene K. Hollander, states: “My clients have suffered greatly. McCormack never should have been ordained as a priest, and my clients look forward to their day in court.” Our offices have settled five other claims with the Archdiocese of Chicago on behalf of victims who allege that they were sexually abused by McCormack. An additional case is still pending.

In the latter case, a Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled in February, 2016, that the Archdiocese of Chicago could be subjected to punitive damages should the case proceed to trial. Evidence showed that the Archdiocese of Chicago received warnings about McCormack’s disturbing sexual behavior while in seminary, yet it still chose to ordain him as a priest.

In August, 2017, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the lower court ruling, finding that the trial court used the proper standard in determining whether the jury could consider the issue of punitive damages. The Archdiocese is currently seeking to have the Illinois Supreme Court further review the matter.

Other than this law firm’s lawsuits, there are currently around eight other cases involving McCormack proceeding through litigation in Cook County. As of early 2016, the Archdiocese of Chicago has paid out a total of $139 million to settle clerical sexual abuse claims. The church, however, has declined to identify how much of that sum has been paid to McCormack victims.

Employment Law

Harvey Weinstein Case Renews Focus on Sexual Harassment Claims.

Recently, over thirty actresses have come forward and alleged that legendary movie producer, Harvey Weinstein, either sexually harassed them or made sexual advances toward them. The New York Times completed an investigation and found undisclosed allegations against the movie mogul dating back thirty years arising from both companies he ran, Miramax, and more recently, The Weinstein Company. Mr. Weinstein was recently fired from The Weinstein Company, a company he founded with his brother, and The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences has ousted him from their membership.

The investigation revealed that Weinstein reached settlements with at least eight women. Weinstein, winner of six Best Picture Oscars, allegedly used his position of power to take advantage of young vulnerable actresses. Many current and former employees knew of Weinstein’s alleged inappropriate conduct, yet few ever confronted him. This narrative is not new, as we have seen it repeatedly with the likes of Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and even President Trump.

So why do victims fail to timely report sexual harassment? Many women do not report sexual harassment to management or human resources for fear of being retaliated against. Indeed, statistics from the Chicago Office for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) bear that out.

Records show that for the years 2006 – 2016, the number of charges alleging sex discrimination (which include sexual harassment) remained fairly steady at approximately 30% of all charges filed. Retaliation claims, however, for all types of discrimination rose dramatically for the same time period—from 20.3% of all charges filed in 1996 compared to 36.2% for 2016.

Unlike the Weinstein case, most sexual harassment claims occur far out of the public spotlight, and many victims do not have the same resources available that victims in higher profile cases do.

What can a victim of sexual harassment do to protect herself? First, document the claim. We recommend keeping a detailed journal of the offensive acts with dates, identifying the perpetrators and witnesses. Second, to the extent there are pictures or cartoons in the workplace, take photographs, as that will likely be admissible evidence. Third, make a complaint. Ideally, the victim should make a timely written complaint to human resources describing the specific acts. The victim should complain to a co-worker, as this outcry evidence will corroborate her testimony.

If the offensive behavior continues, the victim may wish to pursue her legal remedies. In order to protect your legal rights, you will need to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR), or another administrative agency (depending on the size of the employer). A charge with the IDHR must be filed within 180 days of the last act of harassment, or 300 days for the EEOC.

While the EEOC will conduct an investigation, they overwhelmingly issue “no cause” findings, requiring you to file suit in federal court within 90 days. Federal sexual harassment claims are subject to various statutory caps on damages, depending upon the size of the employer. For the largest employer, there is a combined limit of $300,000 for punitive and compensatory damages. There is no cap on lost back wages or future lost pay.

Depending upon the facts of the case, you may have a state law claim for negligent hiring, supervision and retention. If the evidence supports it, such claims are not subject to the federal cap on damages, and can exert significant pressure upon the employer to settle the case. Regardless, you should consult an attorney before beginning a potentially tortuous legal journey.