WBAI Testifies in Support of New Sexual Harassment Legislation

Legislative co-chairs Bridget Duignan and Dina Ninfo testified in support of House Amendment 2 to Senate Bill 402 on October 31, 2017, an effort by state legislators to combat sexual harassment.  Their statements in support of HA2 to SB402 are as follows:

Statement by Bridget Duignan:

WBAI supports of HA 2 because it’s a significant step in the right direction.

While there are federal and state laws in place to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace, for most women, should she fall victim, it is unclear to whom she should report and what if any, disciplinary action will follow.  With the fear of retaliation looming, it is no surprise that 71% of women who are sexually harassed at the workplace do not report it.

The advancement of technology has virtually erased the borders of the traditional workplace and consequently, the law has not kept up as they were designed to protect women from supervisors and co-employees within the confines of the traditional workplace.

But what about the woman who attends organizational events, fundraisers and business lunches and dinners as part of her job?  What about the woman who is in Court all day or attending depositions? She is likely working in a masculine dominated field.  She is rarely in the office.  She often deals with professionals who are not her supervisors or her co-employees.  There is no code of conduct among professionals as the culture has not yet permitted it and any federal and state protections in this context are blurry at best.

HA 2 recognizes this modern workplace as it relates to the interchange between state employees and lobbyists.  It is our hope that it can serve as a model for a uniform code of conduct not only in the public sector but in the private sector as well so that women, whether they work in the private sector or the public sector, wherever the works takes them, can feel comfortable in an environment free from sexual harassment.

Statement by Dina Ninfo:

My name is Dina Ninfo and I am here speaking in support of Amendment 2 to SB402 on my behalf and as Treasurer and one of the Legislative Co-Chairs of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois.  There is a fast moving nationwide campaign fighting against the existing culture of sexual harassment that runs rampant throughout many industries and this amendment is an important step to combating that culture within the political arena in Illinois.  As women lawyers we are are deeply connected to this cause as we face a similar culture on a daily basis.  The first step to combating this culture is education training and accountability as is spelled out in this amendment.  Currently the laws we have in place exist to protect women in the workplace and typically require an adverse employment action to be attached to the harassment in order to take action. However, the reality is that most professions require work outside our traditional work places and that is where the laws designed to protect you from sexual-harassment fade. The truth is, a majority of the harassment we face occurs at the hands of our colleagues, and there is no recourse against that.  When sexual harassment protections are tied to an ethical code such as in this amendment it is a step towards protecting individuals facing sexual harassment outside of their actual office but in the course of their profession.  This House amendment is a substantial step in the right direction to address the realities of the modern workplace and hopefully will serve as model for a uniform code of conduct in both the public and private sectors. It is time that we combat this important issue head on and this amendment is an important first step.  The Women’s Bar Association of Illinois thanks you for your time and for allowing us to speak up in support of this amendment and for allowing our voice to be heard on this important issue.

Fore more on the efforts of #ILSayNoMore and HA2 to SB402, read Legislative Committee Co-Chair Natalie Scruton Federle’s blog post “#ILSayNoMore.”