Sexual Harassment Settlements No Longer Confidential?

Harvey Weinstein. Matt Lauer. Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K.

Sexual harassment has become such a prevalent topic over the past year, that upon reading those four names above, most people can immediately figure out what all four individuals have in common – they have been accused of, and to some extent admitted to, sexual harassment and/or sexual abuse. A recent New York Times article has stated that following the sexual harassment allegations that were made against Weinstein, at least 71 other powerful men have been accused of sexual harassment and suffered serious repercussions, including terminations from jobs, being fired from movies and shows, losing endorsements or business relationships with popular brands and entities, removal from governmental positions, etc. Needless to say, it seems that in the celebrity world, even the most tenuous allegations of sexual harassment – whether true or not; whether supported by evidence or not –  seem to be enough to cause the accused harassers to lose nearly everything they have spent their lives working for. It demonstrates how great of an effect allegations of sexual harassment can have when they go public.

Allegations of sexual harassment rarely have the same effect in the “real world” – or at least in Illinois. Not only do victims of sexual harassment have the burden of proving that their sexual harassment allegations have merit, but they must also prove that the sexual harassment they experienced was so severe and pervasive that it created a hostile work environment for the victim. That means that in some cases, once is not enough – which, for victims, is a tough pill to swallow.

When cases are brought, many employers immediately petition the courts for a protective order keeping all documents they provide in the case confidential, such that they are kept from the public. Then, if the case reaches a settlement prior to trial, the employer insists on keeping the settlement confidential. Indeed, confidentiality has become a standard term of nearly every settlement agreement, even though it primarily serves to protect the employer, not the victim.

One would think that sexual harassment – or any kind of harassment for that matter, including harassment based on race, gender, religion, age, etc. – would be taken more seriously by employers if employers could no longer hide behind confidentiality agreements and confidential settlements.

Enter: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen.

Warren and Rosen recently  introduced legislation that would require public companies to publicly report allegations of sexual harassment and other types of harassment in the workplace.

If passed, Warren and Rosen’s legislation would require public companies to annually report the number of settlements they entered related to sexual harassment and the total amount of money spent on them. It would also require reports on settlements made based on complaints related to race, religion, sex, gender identity, genetic information, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, service-member status, or age discrimination.

The bill would also require the companies to report the “average length of time” for an employer to resolve a complaint regarding sexual harassment. But the bill specifically prohibits the disclosure of the names of employees involved in the settlements.

The legislation would cover contractors as well as other employees under the supervision of the public companies and include settlements made involving “the behavior of an employee … toward another such employee, without regard to whether that behavior occurred in the workplace.”

It would also require them to report the total number of complaints related to discrimination and harassment that are in the process of being resolved through internal processes or litigation.

Finally, the companies would be required to include a “description of the measures taken” to prevent employees from “committing or engaging” in abuse, harassment, or discrimination.

So it seems the “Me Too” movement has officially reached Congress.

 

 

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual harassment – or other workplace harassment or discrimination – please contact the Law Office of Jeffrey Friedman, P.C. at (312) 357-1431 for a free consultation.

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Legionnaires’ Outbreak and the Law

Legionnaires’ Disease is a severe form of pneumonia, which can lead to catastrophic injuries and death.  Symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease typically include high fever, chills, and a cough.  The incubation period of Legionnaires’ Disease is from two to ten days, which is the time it takes before symptoms of the illness to appear after being exposed to the bacteria.  Legionnaire’s Disease can be contracted by breathing in mist or vapor that is contaminated with the Legionella bacteria.  Legionella bacteria grow in warm water, like the kind found in hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, or parts of the air-conditioning systems of large buildings.

The Associated Press reported on October 19, 2017, that two Legionnaires cases were reported at a Quincy, Illinois Veterans Home.  These cases are more than two years after an outbreak reportedly killed 12 people and sickened 54 at the facility.

According to the Associated Press, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs said that two residents at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy contracted the disease. A Department spokesman said one resident died last week but officials believe the death resulted from other factors. The other resident is recovering and the spokesperson added that the facility is “testing the water and closely monitoring residents.”

Our office has represented victims who have contracted Legionnaires’ Disease, against the facility that was the source of the disease, and obtained recoveries for their damages.  A prompt and thorough investigation is important in handling these matters.  If you would like to discuss a Legionnaires’ Disease claim with our office, please call us at 312-357-1431.

 

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Health Care Fraud

Health care fraud

Health care fraud is a growing problem and affects all states – Illinois included. It exists in many forms and practices, such as submission of fraudulent bills to Medicare and private insurers, falsification of diagnoses to justify expensive tests, and performing procedures that are not medically necessary. There have also been reports that certain long term health care facilities, including nursing homes, who are allotted money from Medicare for the care and treatment of a Medicare beneficiary, do not use all of the allotted dollars for the comprehensive care of the residents for whom the money was intended. In some cases, the nursing home provides the resident the bare minimum care and treatment to incur only a portion of the allotted Medicare money for that resident’s care, and then the retaining the rest of the money. In those situations, while Medicare (and, more broadly, the government) is a victim of fraud, the overlooked victim is often the nursing home resident who was deprived of needed care and treatment.

According to a recent Chicago Law Bulletin article, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois has established a new unit in his office to battle health care fraud because “health care providers who cheat the system must be held accountable.” So far, more than 400 defendants in 41 districts across the country, including two doctors and several other medical professionals in Northern Illinois, were charged in various schemes that involved about $1.3 billion in false billings.

The local health care fraud unit is strategically staffed with prosecutors who understand the intricacies of the health care system so that they can recognize which facilities made innocent mistakes and which ones engaged in intentional fraud.

Employees of health care facilities (especially those in the billing or accounting departments who are privy to the way the facility handles its finances as well as patient billing) can also help. Health care employees who witness or have knowledge about their employer’s fraudulent practices can also bring a legal action on behalf of the government who is being defrauded. If the case is successful, the employee may be entitled to a portion of the settlement or verdict that the government obtains.  The Law Office of Jeffrey Friedman, P.C. can represent those health care employees in these cases, as they come forward to expose this conduct, and seek to recover damages.

If you or someone you know have knowledge about a health care facility’s fraudulent practices, please call the Law Office of Jeffrey Friedman, P.C. at 312-357-1431 to discuss how we can help.

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Emails May Sink Chicago’s Water Department

When someone experiences discrimination at work – whether on the basis of his race, gender, age, sexual orientation – the victim should go to the company’s leadership to address and remedy the discrimination. But what happens when the discrimination originates with the very leadership who is supposed to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place?

According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, the Tribune had obtained copies of over 1,300 emails from the Chicago Water Department and found that many of those emails contained highly offensive, derogatory and discriminatory content and language that was not only entirely inappropriate for the workplace but also constituted an outright violation of state and federal employment laws.

Many of the emails contained racist, sexist and homophobic messages. For instance, the Tribune found emails containing “an image of a Ku Klux Klan ‘scarecrow’ amid a watermelon field, a picture of a naked woman on a beach and off-color comments about gay people,” among other offensive messages. Perhaps even more troubling than the content itself is the concern that these emails and their discriminatory and offensive nature was completely condoned by leadership. Not only were the emails sent and received by supervisors, including recently ousted department Commissioner, but there is no evidence that any supervisors did anything to stop these emails from being written, and circulated. Moreover, “in at least one case, [Commissioner] Murphy forwarded an offensive email to another department employee.”

The investigation that originally revealed these emails ultimately led to several resignations of department officials.

After those resignations, in early June 2017, the Tribune obtained additional emails that included racially insensitive, anti-Islamic and sexist messages. This discovery caused the department to provide all of its managers and supervisors with additional training on federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

This discovery of the racist, sexist and homophobic emails was the foundation for a federal race discrimination lawsuit that was filed by African-American employees of the Chicago water department, who claim that they were denied promotions, subjected to racial slurs and sexually harassed because of their race.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if similar lawsuits are filed alleging sexual harassment, gender discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation. Only time will tell – but it seems that the City’s efforts to obtain resignations from these wrongdoing higher-ups are an example of “too little, too late.”

If you believe that you are being sexually harassed at work, or are the victim of any kind of discrimination at work, please call the Law Office of Jeffrey Friedman, P.C. at 312-357-1431 for a free consultation.

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Illinois Nursing Homes for Elderly

Illinois Nursing Homes for Elderly

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McDonald’s Facing Multiple Complaints of Sexual Harassment

 

mcdonalds

Sexual harassment can occur at any place of employment – be it a small family-owned business or a big, multi-national company. It can happen at a private firm or a government agency. One thing is for certain — there are laws that protect victims of sexual harassment and it is not something that an employee has to tolerate.

Take McDonald’s for example. As recently reported, over the last month, 15 separate complaints have been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against McDonald’s, alleging sexual harassment. The sexual harassment ranged from inappropriate physical touching (e.g. groping) to lewd comments to offers of cash in exchange for sexual favors, often by managers.  McDonald’s employees alleged that not only were they sexually harassed at work, but their complaints to management about the sexual harassment were ignored and were not properly – if at all – dealt with by McDonald’s management. In some cases, employees who complained about sexual harassment then experienced retaliation. Unfortunately, many employees don’t realize that retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment is also prohibited, in the same way as the sexual harassment itself is prohibited.

If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, or if you feel that you have been retaliated against for complaining to your employer about sexual harassment, please contact our office at 312-357-1431 for a free consultation.

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Retaliation for Blowing the Whistle

Many state and federal laws are intended to regulate businesses and places of employment, in order to promote consumer and employee safety.  However, certain employers nonetheless violate these laws, and it is only because courageous employees expose this activity that this conduct is brought to light.  These Good Samaritan employees who decide to “blow the whistle” on their employers take great risks in coming forward.  Illinois law protects employee whistleblowers when they reasonably believe that their employers are violating a state or federal law, and has enacted the Illinois Whistleblower Act (“IWA”), 740 ILCS 174/ to afford certain protections to whistle-blowing employees.

88_whistleblowerThe most important purpose behind the IWA is to protect whistleblowers from retaliation by their employers. The IWA recognizes that whistleblowers often have a target on their backs once the employers find out that the employee has complained to the government or a state agency about the employer’s illegal conduct. Employers often retaliate against whistleblowers by, for example, cutting the employee’s hours, issuing written disciplinary notices, assigning more difficult or less desirable job assignments, or terminating the employee. Such retaliation in response to an employee’s whistleblowing activities is strictly prohibited by the IWA and the employee may have a viable whistleblower case against his or her employer.

If you are or have been retaliated against by your employer for “blowing the whistle” about your employer’s wrongful conduct, you may be entitled to damages under the Illinois Whistleblower Act.  Please contact our office at 312-357-1431 for a free consultation.

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Sexual Harassment on the Job

29-11-2011We are frequently contacted by individuals who describe inappropriate and often vulgar conduct that they have experienced at work.  They inquire as to whether we believe they have a valid claim for sexual harassment.  In many instances, we have to advise them that we cannot assist them, despite the fact they have experienced highly offensive conduct at their job.  Here is why.

Generally, prevailing in a case for sexual harassment rarely hinges on whether the conduct experienced by the employee qualifies as sexual harassment.  Often, that is obvious, and in many instances the employee has corroborating witnesses, or emails, photographs, screen shots or other written evidence of the wrongful conduct.  Instead, the reason why an employee may not prevail in a case of sexual harassment involves an issue employers are increasingly very skilled at arguing:  the harasser was not the victim’s “supervisor.” In Illinois, the term “supervisor” is not simply the person with the authority to oversee aspects of another’s job performance, or tell an employee what to do.  Instead, “supervisor” is narrowly defined as those employees who have the power to directly affect the terms and conditions of an individual’s employment.

That is not to say that the sex harassment victim will not prevail just because the harasser is a co-worker.  If the harasser is not deemed to be the victim’s “supervisor,” then additional burdens are placed upon the victim in order to prevail in a case of sexual harassment.  An employer may be held responsible for co-worker on co-worker harassment “only if the employer knew or should have known about the coworker’s acts of harassment and fails to take appropriate remedial action.” McKenzie v. Illinois Dept. of Transp., 92 F.3d 473, 480 (7th Cir.1996).  In other words, the victim has the burden of proving that she provided notice to the company and allowed the company time to take action that the addresses the harassment.

The attorneys at the Law Office of Jeffrey Friedman, P.C. are experienced in responding to the arguments made by companies in defending the actions of their employees who have engaged in sexual harassment.  If you believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment at your job, please contact our office at 312-357-1431 for a free consultation.

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Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse

The Bronx, New York. 7/23/08. At Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale Jane Gross visits the nursing home where her mother died on the anniversary of her death . this frame: patients watching television, stereotypical view of life at nursing home. slug: nursing homes Id # 30065678A. Photograph by Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times.

Getting older is a fact of life, and for many, nursing homes eventually become their new homes. And while living in a nursing home might be as inevitable as aging, you can take certain measures to ensure that all reasonable safeguards are in place at the nursing home and that you are getting reasonable and adequate care.

Nursing homes in Illinois are regulated by the Nursing Home Care Act (210 ILCS 45/1-101, et seq.) and the Illinois Administrative Code (42 CFR §483).  If a nursing home or those who work there violate these regulations and standards causing harm to a resident, then the victim or their family may wish to consider exercising their legal rights.

The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act defines “abuse” as “any physical or mental injury or sexual assault inflicted on a resident other than that by accidental means in a facility.”  (210 ILCS 45/1-103). “Neglect” is defined as “a failure in a facility to provide adequate medical or personal care or maintenance, which failure results in physical or mental injury to a resident or in the deterioration of a resident’s physical or mental condition.” (210 ILCS 45/1-117).

Unfortunately, nursing home residents are all too often victims of abuse or neglect, and as such, may have meritorious cases against the nursing home. For example, Nursing homes may fail to develop and implement a comprehensive care plan to address the resident’s medical, nursing, mental and psychosocial needs, or fail to take all necessary measures to prevent falls, pressure sores, malnutrition, dehydration, and contractures.

While getting old is a natural part of life, nursing home neglect is not. It is important to understand that bed sores are not a part of the natural aging process. If a resident develops pressure sores at a nursing home, it may be because the nursing home staff did not adequately and reasonably monitor and turn the resident. Additionally, a resident’s significant weight loss while at the nursing home may be a sign of malnutrition and/or dehydration.  Malnutrition and dehydration may also weaken the body and immune system, which makes it even harder to prevent or heal bed sores.  Finally, it goes without saying that not all falls that occur at a nursing home are “accidental.”

Recently, the Law Office of Jeffrey Friedman, P.C. represented the estate of an elderly woman who died as a result of alleged nursing home neglect.  The neglect consisted of malnutrition, dehydration, failure to treat and prevent bed sores, failure to treat and prevent contractures, and failure to reasonably and timely implement tube feeding.  Our office negotiated a confidential settlement with the nursing home on behalf of the family.

If you believe that you or a loved one are or have been a victim of nursing home neglect or abuse, please feel free to call our office at 312-357-1431 for a free consultation.

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Insurer Pays off Lawsuit With Thousands in Coins

By ROBERT JABLON Associated Press
Associated Press

An insurance company settled a lawsuit with a Los Angeles man by dropping off buckets full of thousands of quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies, his attorney said Wednesday.

Andres Carrasco, 76, filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Adriana’s Insurance Services, a Rancho Cucamonga-based company.

The East Los Angeles man alleged that during an argument over why the company had cancelled his auto insurance, an agent assaulted him by physically removing him from the office.

The company reached a settlement in June and last week delivered partial payment in the form of a check, but also tried to leave buckets of loose change in his lawyer’s East Los Angeles office, attorney Antonio Gallo said.

Gallo said he refused to accept the delivery because he couldn’t verify the amount in the buckets. But, he said, the cash was left the next day when he was at court.

Insurer Pays off Lawsuit With Thousands in Coins

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