Sexual Discrimination & Harassment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”) prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex (gender) as well as sexual harassment.

Sex Discrimination

Discrimination based on sex involves treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her gender. Title VII makes it illegal to discriminate based on sex when it comes to any aspect of employment including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

It is, therefore, illegal to discriminate based on sex in pay and benefits under both Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. Consequently, a claimant may simultaneously have claims under Title VII and Equal Pay Act for unequal pay on the basis of gender. Lastly, since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) amended Title VII, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions also constitutes illegal sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.

Sex Harassment and Sexual Harassment

Under Title VII, it is illegal to harass a person because of that person's sex. Harassment may include "sexual harassment" or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. However, harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, and can include offensive remarks about a person's sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Damages and Coverage for Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Under Federal and Illinois Law

Title VII applies to employers (including employment agencies and unions) with 15 or more employees, and to federal, state, and local governments. Employees who are victims of sex discrimination and sexual harassment under Title VII may be entitled to recover compensatory and punitive damages as well as back pay, reinstatement or front pay, and attorneys’ fees and costs. Importantly, Title VII places caps on the sum of compensatory and punitive damages for which an employer may be liable. The caps are based on the size of the employer’s workforce:

Employer Size

Compensatory Damages

Punitive Damages

15 - 100 employees



101 - 200 employees



201 - 500 employees



501 or more employees



In contrast to Title VII, the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”) does not place caps on the amount of damages that are recoverable under the Act. The IHRA typically applies to employers with 15 or more employees in the state of Illinois, public contractors, and state governmental units. However, for clams of sexual harassment, employers with 1 or more employees are covered by the Act.

Contact our Chicago Sexual Discrimination & Harassment Lawyers

If you believe that you have been the victim of sex discrimination or sexual harassment at work, you must timely file a Charge of Discrimination before filing a civil lawsuit. We encourage you to contact our Chicago workplace discrimination attorneys to set up a free consultation in time to learn about your rights and options under the law.