Ending Cultural Acceptance of Sexual Harassment

For far too long our cultural, business, and political institutions have enabled a cultural acceptance of sexual harassment by turning a blind eye and sweeping the proverbial dirt under the rug. In some industries and workplaces, this abuse of power has been allowed to run rampant, taking away the voice and rights of the harassed who, not always, but most often, are women. The “Me Too” movement, recently born out of wave after wave of brave women coming forward to confront aggressors, has brought the issue front and center, to the point where employers and perpetrators are being called out and held to account.

Against the backdrop of this national movement, Illinois stands as its own cautionary tale of the abysmal failure of the systems that are meant to prevent sexual misconduct and the leaders responsible for addressing it when it happens.

As attorney general, I will work to breakdown the cultural barriers that allow sexual harassment to persist and bad actors to go unpunished.

  1. Fixing the Illinois Legislative Inspector General Statute 

Recent events have demonstrated that Illinois political leaders are profoundly lacking in any interest or commitment to rooting out sexual harassment amongst their own ranks. Our Speaker of the House allowed the Legislative Inspector General position to remain unfilled for three years, allowing complaints to pile up, then failed to conduct an expeditious and independent investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct within his own political organization.

Revisions to the statute governing the Legislative Ethics Commission and the Legislative Inspector General are needed to ensure that allegations of sexual misconduct are treated with care, so as not to further victimize victims, and afforded thorough and independent investigation. As currently written, the statute includes several unnecessary impediments to independence in the way the LIG and the attorney general are permitted to hold perpetrators of sexual misconduct accountable. The inspector general has to ask permission to hire people, cannot promulgate her own rules without approval by the legislative leaders and ethics commission, must ask permission to issue a subpoena, and has to report to the legislative leaders before the attorney general can get involved. 

There also are problems with the extremely short statute of limitations in the current law. There are numerous problems that must be addressed in order to guarantee actual checks and balances for our legislature. Moreover, additional reporting requirements are necessary to achieve transparency and accountability within these organizations.

As attorney general, I would like to streamline this process and give teeth to the legislative inspector general so that our elected leaders will not be above the law when it comes to sexual harassment. 

  1. Revising the Illinois Human Rights Act to cover Legislative Offices and Political Campaigns

The Illinois Human Rights Act is an important state measure that prohibits sexual harassment in the work place. However, as currently drafted the statute explicitly carves out political offices from its definition of “employers” that are within the purview of the statute’s prohibitions. Revisions should incorporate legislative offices and elected officials as employers and the employees of such, whether or not they receive financial remuneration.

  1. Join with State Attorneys General to Call on Congress to End Mandatory Arbitration for Sexual Harassment Claims that Perpetrates a Culture of Silence

Recently, every single state attorney general signed a letter to congressional leaders demanding that sexual harassment victims get their day in court.  

The attorneys general want congress to end the practice of forcing sexual harassment cases into mandatory arbitration, secret private courtrooms outside the public justice system. Companies favor arbitration because it’s cheaper ― victims typically don’t get much money ― and even more appealing, arbitration allows corporations to keep embarrassing cases secret.

“Ending mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims would help to put a stop to the culture of silence that protects perpetrators at the cost of their victims,” the letter says.

The veil of secrecy that often surrounds harassment claims keeps victims isolated ― unaware that someone else has already gone through a similar experience and unable to fight together. Arbitration agreements and confidentiality clauses helped protect many of these harassers.

Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson succeeded in getting around the arbitration clause in her employment contract with Fox News when she took the extraordinary step of suing the company’s former chairman, Roger Ailes, directly in court. Getting her case out into the light in 2016 was crucial in exposing Ailes, and ultimately resulted in his ouster from the company he co-founded. The reverberations around Carlson’s move also led to the ouster of Fox superstar Bill O’Reilly.

The suit turned Carlson into one of the leading proponents to end forced arbitration. In December, she helped senators from both parties introduce legislation in congress that would end the practice in sexual harassment cases.

“Ending arbitration in these cases is the first step to give women and men the voice they deserve,” Carlson said.  “Harassment and retaliation at work is an apolitical issue — an issue that affects us all — an issue we should all care about — for our mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers and most of all our children. The myths and secrecy surrounding this serious issue must stop.”

As attorney general, I join with these sitting attorneys general to end the secrecy of mandatory arbitration clauses for sexual harassment claims and urge congress to pass this important piece of legislation.