Thirty-one year-old Danielle L. Pickett, former Sheridan Health & Rehab Center nursing home worker of Zion, IL, has been awarded $65,000 in compensatory and punitive damages by the Illinois 7th Circuit Court. The court upheld Pickett’s claim that Sheridan Center fired her for reporting to management incidents of sexual harassment by some of the Center’s residents.
In June 2006, Pickett, a housekeeper at the time for the Sheridan Center in Zion, complained to her supervisors that a number of residents had asked for sexual favors and inappropriately touched her while she was cleaning their private rooms. Despite promises from two of her managers, Craig Barnes and Paul Ross Zeller, that the situation would be handled promptly, and that the resident who inappropriately touched her would be forced to leave, Pickett alleges that management took no immediate actions. Instead, her duties were reassigned to cleaning common areas.
During a meeting to discuss her harassment complaint, VP Operations Nanjean Painter allegedly told Pickett, “Well, you are a pretty girl, what are you doing to make them want to touch you?” Painter also allegedly said that because the first resident only asked Painter for sexual favors and did not try to grab her, the encounter could not be considered sexual harassment.
Out of frustration with management’s poor handling of her sexual harassment claim and after a meeting where she was informed that Sheridan Center was not going to remove the abusive resident, Pickett left the center that day without clocking out. When Pickett contacted management the next day to inquire about her job status, Sheridan Center told her that it would be best if she no longer worked for them.
On July 7, 2006, Pickett filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Sheridan then offered to reinstate her job. Pickett refused the offer because Sheridan did not provide her back pay and she doubted that she would be protected from future harassment.
Sheridan Center sought a new trial or a reduction in the damages award, but a federal judge in Illinois denied the motions and awarded Pickett back pay and damages compensation. The 7th Circuit Court stated that it is Sheridan Center’s duty to prevent a hostile work environment, even if the harassment is committed by third parties.