Major changes are coming to the Illinois Department of Human Rights and Illinois Human Rights Commission. Upon signing by Governor Rauner, the amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act will remove administrative hurdles for employees seeking to bring IHRA claims at the Human Rights Commission or in state or federal court. A faster administrative process should be welcomed by both employees and employers.
Key changes include:
300 Days to File. Employees now have 300 days from the alleged civil rights violation to file a charge of discrimination with the IDHR. 775 ILCS 5/7A-102(A)(A-1). This increase from 180 days brings the IDHR in line with the EEOC’s charge filing deadline.
Opt-Out. Under the amendments, charging parties can opt-out of the IDHR’s investigation process. Within 60 days of receiving an IDHR notice, employees may elect to opt-out of the IDHR’s investigation process and receive a notice stating that the employee can file an action in Illinois circuit court within 90 days. 5/7A-102(B) and (C-1).
With IDHR investigations often taking one full year to complete, this provision will allow employees to proceed to court with their IHRA claims much faster.
Deadlines for EEOC’s Determination. This amendment gives the IDHR deadlines to adopt the EEOC’s determination of a charge investigation when the employee does not request the IDHR’s adoption of the EEOC’s determination. The Amendments do not eliminate the 35-day period employees have to request that IDHR review or adopt the EEOC’s determination, but they do shorten the wait to receive an IDHR adoption. If the employee gives “timely” notice, the IDHR will adopt the EEOC’s determination of a charge investigation and notify employees and employers within 10 business days after receiving the EEOC’s determination. 5/7A-102(A-1). If the employee does not request a review of the EEOC’s determination, then the IDHR must notify the employee of its adoption of the EEOC’s determination 10 business days after the expiration of the 35-day period. Id.
Court Filing Leads to Charge’s Dismissal. If an employee has a charge before the IDHR and a factually-related case pending in state court, federal court, or administrative proceeding, then the IDHR will now dismiss the charge instead of staying the investigation. 5/7/109.1. With this dismissal, employees can bring their IHRA claims into their pending lawsuit. Like the deadlines for adoption of EEOC determinations, this provision should help employees who receive an EEOC Right to Sue letter pursue all claims in court simultaneously instead of having potentially duplicative lawsuits.
Not Retroactive. The amendments will not apply retroactively to charges currently pending with the IDHR if the Amendments become law. 7A-102(L).
Commission Structural Changes. The amendments change the makeup of the Commission and compensation of commissions.
Ultimately, these amendments should result in fewer delays in the administrative process for employees and employers. The lengthening of the deadline to file an IDHR charge gives employees and employers more time for pre-filing settlement negotiations.
For cases that cannot be resolved, employees can bring their claims to court much faster thanks to the opt-out provision. An employee can file their charge with the IDHR and be in court less than six months. If an employee exercises the opt-out provision, the employer will know much earlier if the employee intends to fully purse their claims. With this knowledge, employers can allocate their resources for their defense in court instead of expending those resources in the administrative process.
Coordinating the administrative process with the EEOC’s deadlines also helps employers avoid multiple amendments to the employee’s complaint when they finally receive the appropriate notices.
With a more efficient IDHR process, employees and employers should be able to narrow their focus to the merits of their cases instead dealing with unnecessary administrative procedural issues.
Hopefully, Governor Rauner will see the benefits that the amendments offer to all parties and sign them into law.