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Defending Against False Sexual Harassment Claims: A Guide for Illinois Small Businesses

March 22, 2024

For small business owners in Illinois, facing false allegations of sexual harassment or discrimination can be a harrowing experience. It’s a situation that demands a delicate balance of serious attention and strategic defense, especially when the claims come from an employee with a history of subpar job performance. If you find yourself in this position, it’s crucial to know that there are steps you can take to protect your business and your good name.

Understanding the Allegations

When confronted with allegations of sexual harassment, it’s imperative to address them head-on, even if you believe them to be unfounded. These are serious charges that carry weighty consequences. However, if the accusations stem from an employee with a track record of poor performance, chronic tardiness, or early departures, and who has been with the company for a short period—less than six months, for instance—it’s essential to build a robust defense against their six-figure settlement demands.

The Wong Case: An Example of Sexual Harassment Allegations that involved 9 counts

Take, for example, the case of Emily Wong v. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc., and Ryan Arnold, Case No. 2019-L-011133, filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois in 2019. In this case, the plaintiff, former employee Emily Wong, alleged that she was subjected to sexual harassment and was constructively terminated after reporting the incident, which involved unwelcome advances and touching by another worker. The plaintiff filed an administrative charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”), then a lawsuit seeking damages for the emotional distress and harm caused by the alleged incident. The case was eventually removed to Illinois federal court, and many of the counts were dismissed in part by a federal judge in 2021.

However, regardless of the case outcome, the allegations remain public for both the employee, the employer and any individuals sued, and on record and the federal court, in 2021, summarized the allegations as follows (which are easily found with a Google search of the case name):

Plaintiff Emily Wong (“Plaintiff”) has filed a suit against her former employer, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc. (“Defendant” or “LEYE”) and her former boss, Ryan Arnold (“Arnold”), stemming from an alleged sexual assault. LEYE has moved to dismiss the claims against it. The Court now sets forth the facts relevant to resolving the motion in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.

LEYE hired Plaintiff as a public relations associate in 2017. [Id. at ¶ 8.] Her job was to promote the LEYE brand by creating and maintaining a positive public image for the its restaurant group. [Id. at ¶ 13.] Her duties included coordinating media events and preparing chefs and LEYE personnel for national-media interviews, which often occurred out of the office and during evenings and weekends. [Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.] Plaintiff was Arnold’s primary publicist and was frequently assigned to work at the restaurants that Arnold serviced. [Id. at ¶¶ 16-17.]

At some point in 2017, a winery representative from Mt. Beautiful Wines offered Plaintiff and Arnold a trip to New Zealand in exchange for Arnold placing its wines on LEYE’s restaurants’ wine lists. [Id . at ¶ 18]. On November 5, 2018, Arnold asked Plaintiff to come over to his residence to drink wine and call the winery representative. [Id. at ¶ 20]. Plaintiff arrived at Arnold’s residence in the late afternoon, and they shared champagne and discussed the trip to New Zealand. [Id. at ¶ 22.] They then went to a nearby restaurant, ate dinner and had another glass of wine, and returned to Arnold’s residence and had another drink. [Id. at ¶¶ 23-25.] As they sat on the couch, Arnold began kissing Plaintiff, but she soon withdrew her consent. [Id. at ¶ 27.] Arnold continued to engage in unwanted and nonconsensual conduct, including kissing, groping, and reaching under  Plaintiff’s clothes, which Plaintiff alleges constitute sexual assault. [Id. at ¶¶ 28-39.] Eventually, Arnold stopped long enough for Plaintiff to get up from the couch, order a rideshare, and leave Arnold’s residence. [Id. at ¶¶ 40-41.]

On Monday, November 12, 2018, Plaintiff arrived at the corporate offices of LEYE to speak to her supervisor, Emily Clark, and the Vice President of Marketing, Jennifer Bell. [Id. at ¶ 46.] She reported the events of November 5th without naming Arnold, but Bell realized his identity, at which point she asked Plaintiff to speak with Susie Southgate-Fox, the head of human resources at LEYE. [Id. at ¶¶ 47-50.] Plaintiff then spoke with. Southgate-Fox, who asked questions such as “why were you even there [at Mr. Arnold’s residence]” and said that firing Arnold would be a “drastic” response. [Id. at ¶¶ 52-53.]

Shortly after Plaintiff’s conversation with Southgate-Fox, LEYE instructed Plaintiff to stay away from the restaurants at which Arnold was the director and not to participate in two media events, which were an important part of her job. [Id. at ¶¶ 56-57.] On November 14, Southgate-Fox had another meeting with Plaintiff, which included John Simmons, a vice president of human resources at LEYE. [Id. at ¶ 58-59.] Southgate-Fox asked Plaintiff additional questions, such as “Do you think [Arnold] thinks he did anything wrong?” and whether she thought Arnold should be fired. When Plaintiff turned that last question back on Southgate-Fox, she responded, “I don’t know, that’s what we’re trying to figure out.” [Id. at ¶¶ 62-64.]

On November 21, 2018, terminated Plaintiff’s access to her email account and set up an automated response from her email address that read “Emily [Wong] is currently out of the office with limited access to email or voicemail. Please contact Emily Clark ( in her absence. Thanks [sic] you.” [Id. at ¶¶ 65-66.] That same day, LEYE placed Plaintiff on a paid leave. [Id. at ¶ 67.] Shortly after that, other LEYE employees began performing the core and  essential tasks of Plaintiff’s job, which Plaintiff says constructively terminated her position. [Id. at ¶ 68.]

This case shows how serious allegations of this nature are, and how it could take years to sort out the dispute through the Illinois circuit or federal courts, even after the employee separates. Pietrucha Law Firm, LLC has a unique perspective on sexual harassment cases as we represent both employees who bring forth credible allegations, as well as small businesses who believe they were falsely accused of such serious allegations.

Gathering Evidence

In any case, including those similar to Wong’s, it’s crucial to compile all documentation related to the employee’s work history. This includes performance evaluations, attendance records, and any disciplinary actions taken. Such evidence can demonstrate that employment decisions were based on legitimate business reasons and not on any form of discrimination or retaliation.

Legal Representation

Navigating false allegations requires expert legal guidance. Pietrucha Law Firm, LLC offers empathetic and affordable legal services, with both flat rates and hourly rates tailored to the complexity of your case. Our firm stands ready to defend Illinois small business owners against unfounded claims that threaten their livelihood.

Responding to the Claim

With legal counsel, you’ll need to respond to the claim formally. This response may involve an internal investigation, a response to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or other legal actions. Prompt and appropriate action, under the guidance of your attorney, is critical.

Showing Empathy

It’s natural to experience a range of emotions when faced with false allegations. While feelings of anger or betrayal are understandable, it’s important to maintain professionalism and rely on the expertise of your legal team to navigate these challenges.

Moving Forward

After addressing the allegations, take proactive steps to prevent future incidents. Review and update your company’s policies, provide employee training, and ensure that your business practices are fair and equitable.


False allegations of sexual harassment or discrimination can be daunting, but with the right approach and legal support, you can defend your business and move forward. Pietrucha Law Firm, LLC is dedicated to providing the legal representation you need to overcome these challenges and protect your business.

If you’re facing false allegations and need legal assistance, contact us today to discuss your case and explore your options. We’re here to help you defend your business and your reputation against unfounded claims.

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