How to file a discrimination claim in Illinois

On Behalf of | Jul 28, 2017 | Firm News


Illinois residents who believe they are a victim of workplace discrimination have many options for filing a claim in accordance with Illinois discrimination laws.

Not only are there federal and state agencies that accept and review complaints, but some major Illinois municipalities have their own human rights ordinances. A person may also file a federal lawsuit if their complaint is not satisfactorily addressed by one of these agencies. The procedure is relatively straightforward, but it’s important to understand deadlines and know with which agency or agencies it’s best to file a complaint.

Laws regarding workplace discrimination in Illinois are based on the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Illinois Human Rights Act

The Illinois Human Rights Act, which took effect in 1979, is a wide-ranging declaration of freedom from discrimination. It protects people from unfair treatment in employment, housing and more based upon “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, order of protection status, marital status, physical or mental disability, military status, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or unfavorable discharge from military service in connection with employment, real estate transactions, access to financial credit, and the availability of public accommodations.”

In the employment section of the act, Illinois defines an employer as anyone employing at least 15 people. But that threshold drops from 15 to 1 in cases of discrimination based upon “physical or mental disability unrelated to ability, pregnancy, or sexual harassment.” The act also protects unpaid interns.

To show discrimination, a person will need to demonstrate that:

  1. They are a member of a protected group, such as being older than 40 or physically disabled;
  2. They were good at their job, or qualified for the role for which they applied;
  3. The manager’s decision was unfair; and
  4. A person outside of your protected group received better treatment.

If those criteria are met, one might consider filing a claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or their municipal human relations commission.

Illinois Department of Human Rights

The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) is the state agency that accepts claims of workplace discrimination, while the Illinois Human Rights Commission makes “impartial determinations” on select claims forwarded to it by the IDHR. A person has 180 days to file a claim, dating to the action thought to be discriminatory. A claim may be filed in person at either Chicago or Springfield offices, or in writing. The IDHR has 365 days, or one year, to review a claim. There are four outcomes, three of which typically end the claim process in favor of the employer:

  1. No action taken;
  2. Dismissal for lack of substantial evidence of discrimination;
  3. Dismissal for the complainant’s failure to attend a fact-finding conference; or
  4. Finding of substantial evidence of discrimination.

In the case of that fourth outcome, the complainant can then ask the IDHR to file a complaint with the commission within 30 days.

In 2015, the 13-member commission rendered almost 600 decisions. Email the IDHR or call during a case review for an updated status.

Illinois also offers mediation, in hopes of reaching a settlement without a complaint and hearing. There is no cost, and the mediator does not impose any decision.

It’s important to note that the IDHR is the only state avenue through which one can file a complaint. Illinois law doesn’t permit individuals to file suit in court for workplace discrimination. It is possible in federal court, however, but only working through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency with functions similar to the IDHR. It generally deals with employers with at least 15 employees, though that number rises to 20 for age-discrimination cases. It’s important to know whether to file with the IDHR or the EEOC based on the size of the employer and/or specific claim. Cross-filing is also permitted. Wood Law Office can help determine the proper action for filing claims in accordance with Illinois discrimination laws.

In Illinois, the EEOC has a 180-day deadline to file a claim, though certain situations can extend the period to 300 days. File in person at the Chicago field office at 5000 W. Madison St., Suite 2000. Attorneys are permitted to attend, but are not required for filing a claim. Filing in writing also is allowed, but letters must be signed or the charge will not be investigated.

It can take months for the EEOC to investigate a claim. The average in 2015 was 10 months, and there is an online system for tracking progress.

If the EEOC determines no violation took place, the agency provides a Notice of Right to Sue, and a person may then sue in federal court. The EEOC will seek a settlement with the employer if it finds a violation. Failing that, it will either sue the employer or provide a Notice of Right to Sue.

A notable federal case involving an Illinois employer was settled in May 2017. Rosebud Restaurants paid $1.9 million after it was determined the chain discriminated against some black job applicants. In that case, the EEOC filed the suit.

Mediation is also available through the EEOC, offering quicker resolutions (about three months).

Municipal Claims

In addition to considering federal and state claims, a person might also look to their municipality or county.  Many major Illinois communities have anti-discrimination laws and some kind human relations commission to help enforce them.

Some of these commissions accept the filing of claims, some offer a form of mediation and others simply guide the municipal government. A municipal government’s website should have a listing for such a department, if it exists. Municipalities with Illinois discrimination laws in place include:

  • Carbondale
  • Decatur