The Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) is a state law intended to protect Illinois citizens from instances of discrimination in various areas of life. The Act makes discrimination illegal when it comes to matters involving employment, housing, obtaining credit, sexual harassment in education settings, and public accommodations.
For instance, under the IHRA, employers may not discriminate against employees on the basis of their membership in a religious group, their political affiliation, age, gender, race, and other characteristics. If an employer takes an adverse action against an employee on an impermissible basis, this may be considered employment discrimination. This can result in negative legal consequences for the employer.
A person should keep in mind that discrimination is also prohibited under federal law. The federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) administers federal employment law. The EEOC also has a claims process.
How Can I File for Legal Relief Under the Illinois Human Rights Act?
If a person believes that they have a claim for employment discrimination or any other type of discrimination, they would need to file a “charge” with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
A charge of discrimination must be filed within 300 days after the alleged discriminatory action happened unless it is a claim alleging discrimination in housing. If that is the case, then the claim must be filed within 1 year of the discriminatory action. The IDHR has an Intake Unit, which can help a person prepare a charge of discrimination.
Before a person files a claim, they want to be prepared to give the IDHR accurate and complete information about the person or entity who may have discriminated against them, e.g., their employer or former employer, union, or other organization. A person would want to provide the date when the alleged discrimination took place, including the names and contact information of any other people who may have witnessed the discrimination.
In addition, a person wants to have copies of relevant documents to submit with their claim.
A person making a claim prepares and files a Complainant Information Sheet (CIS) that should give the information that enables the Department to assess and respond to it. A person may submit the claim in person or by email, mail, or fax. The necessary contact information can be found at the bottom of the CIS form. Keep in mind that the CIS is not the claim itself.
A person can report in person to the IDHR. A member of the staff conducts an interview with the person. If the staff member thinks that the person has a claim that is covered by the IHRA, they draft the claim. The person signs it. If the claim involves something other than housing, the person must sign and date it under oath.
The staff member would be willing to discuss the various types of discrimination and explain the procedure for filing a charge. If it would be appropriate, the staff member would refer a person to other agencies where appropriate for their case.
The IDHR reviews the claim and undertakes an investigation into the claim. The Department would then go through a series of steps to determine what type of legal action would be best to remedy the person’s charge.
Is Mediation an Option for an IDHR Charge?
In cases that do not involve claims of discrimination in housing, the IDHR may suggest that a person participate in an optional mediation. The mediation would be between the person who makes the claim and the person or entity that has allegedly discriminated against them. This may allow the parties to work out a resolution of the situation that is agreeable to both of them.
Mediation is a process for resolving disputes that sometimes helps parties resolve their disagreements themselves. A mediation would be an alternative to an investigation by the IDHR. One advantage of it is that it might resolve a charge more quickly. It is also informal and costs nothing. The two parties meet voluntarily with a certified mediator who helps them to identify possible ways to resolve the charge.
Mediation is also confidential and is available for all cases that do not involve claims of discrimination in housing. After the parties reach a settlement in mediation, both parties have 10 days to opt out of it and go forward with the investigation process. If the parties do not reach a settlement, the charge moves to the investigation process.
What Happens After an Investigation?
After a charge has been fully investigated by the IDHR, the investigator prepares a written report. The report communicates a finding as to whether or not there is “substantial evidence” of a violation of the IHRA.
If the report states that there has been a finding of “substantial evidence,” it means that there is enough evidence for the person who filed the charge to present their case in a hearing before an administrative law judge at the Illinois Human Rights Commission (IHRC).
This is a state agency that holds hearings on complaints filed by IDHR on behalf of a person who files a charge. Conversely, a person may take their complaint to the appropriate state circuit court.
Whether a person has a hearing before an administrative law judge or in a court of law, they would present testimony and other evidence in support of their case. The administrative law judge or the judge of the court would then determine whether unlawful discrimination occurred.
Each party has a right to be represented by an attorney to present their side of the case. The parties would have to pay for their own lawyers. However, the person who filed the charge might be able to recover their attorney’s fees from the party who is found liable for discrimination.
If a person who has filed a charge is successful in their hearing before the IHRC, the judge can order remedies allowed by the IHRA.
For example, in an employment discrimination case, these may include:
- Back pay;
- Lost benefits;
- Clearing of a personnel file;
- Damages for emotional distress;
- Front pay where reinstatement is not possible;
- Attorney’s fees and costs.
The IHRA does not allow awards of punitive damages.
How Long Does the Process Take To Complete?
There are several steps to the processing of a charge filed with the IDHR. Nonetheless, for claims of discrimination in employment, the IHRA requires the IDHR to complete its review of these claims within 1 year, 365 calendar days after a person has successfully submitted the claim. This means that a person’s case would most probably be resolved 1 year at the most.
If the IDHR fails to reach a determination after 1 year, then a person would have 30 days to file a request for a legal review of their case. If the IDHR still has not addressed the situation, a person then has the right to file a private lawsuit for their claim. A person could also inquire with the federal EEOC regarding filing a claim there.
Otherwise, if a hearing before the HRC or in a court is held, the entire process might take some time to reach a final conclusion.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With the Illinois Human Rights Act?
If you think you have been the victim of discrimination, you want to consult an Illinois discrimination lawyer. Your lawyer will be able to review the facts of your case and guide you through the process of filing a claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
LegalMatch.com can connect you to a lawyer who is experienced in the claims process of the IDHR correctly. Your lawyer can present your case in the most effective possible way and can represent you in negotiations and at any necessary official state hearings.