International Profit Associates (IPA) is a successful firm located in Buffalo Grove, a Chicago suburb. It claims to be the largest privatelyheld business development company for small and medium-size businesses throughout North America. But IPA had a problem, which, after many years and great expense, it has acknowledged and apparently resolved.

IPA's problem was that it had a male-dominated culture which led to an atmosphere that tolerated sexual harassment, to such an extent that the EEOC's Chicago office called it "the most egregious sexual harassment that our Chicago office has ever seen." The sexual harassment took the form of propositioning for sex, statements that sex was a quid pro quo for employment, inappropriate physical contact, and even sexual assault. As a result, the EEOC filed a complaint against IPA ten years ago, making it one of the longest sexual harassment cases in EEOC history.

So why did it take ten years to resolve? The EEOC claimed the delay was due to the countless arguments and motions made by IPA's attorneys to delay the case. In any event, the day of reckoning arrived and, as a result, IPA agreed to pay $8 million to 82 female associates alleged to be the victims of the sexual harassment. Initial payments will be from $30,000 to $70,000, with remaining compensation to be paid in installments over three years. The average payout per victim is about $100,000. Payments are guaranteed by the company's owner and secured by mortgages on some of the owner's personal real estate interests.

IPA's corporate attorney said the last sexual harassment complaint was filed against IPA in 1998 and IPA has since cleaned up its act and isn't the same company it used to be. IPA's attorney said that IPA now employs a human resources staff, holds training sessions, and posts anti-harassment notices.

IPA's case is the latest object lesson illustrating the costs of having an atmosphere and culture that tolerates sexual harassment.