Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, or religion. Each state has passed laws and rules to protect your workplace rights: this page covers Illinois employment discrimination. The purpose of the Illinois Human Rights Act is to protect workers in Illinois from unlawful discrimination in employment. Read below to learn more about Illinois employment law and how the law protects you.
What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Illinois?
The Illinois Human Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions), national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, age (40 and over), marital status, unfavorable military discharge, military status, genetic information, arrest record, victims of domestic violence, physical, mental or perceived handicap/disability, or sexual orientation (including gender-related identity).
Illinois law also provides broader protection for disabled employees than the similar federal statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it does not require that the employee have a substantial limitation of a major life activity. Instead, the state law defines disability or handicap as a “determinable mental or physical characteristic of a person.” See disability discrimination.
State law also makes it illegal to “aid and abet” discrimination, which permits legal action to be taken against any person (not limited to an employee of your employer) who helped cause the discrimination to happen.
How do I file a discrimination claim in Illinois?
In Illinois, a discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a “work-sharing agreement,” which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to “cross-file” the claim with the other agency.
The Illinois anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law for sexual harassment, retaliation, and age claims only. Only one employee is needed for IDHR to investigate charges that allege sexual harassment, pregnancy, retaliation, physical or mental disability discrimination. If your workplace has between 15 and 20 employees, you should file your age discrimination claim with the IDHR since the EEOC enforces federal law, which only covers employers with 20 or more employees in age discrimination cases. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you may file all other discrimination claims with either agency.
To file a claim with the IDHR, contact the nearest office below. More information about filing a claim with IDHR can be found at the IDHR Website
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at the EEOC How to File page.
EEOC's Chicago District Office
EEOC has launched an online service that enables individuals who have filed a discrimination charge to check the status of their charge online. This service provides a portal to upload and receive documents and communicate with the EEOC, allowing for a faster transmitting period. Those who have filed a charge can access information about their charge at their convenience, and allow entities that have been charged to receive the same information on the status of the charge. All of the EEOC offices now use the Digital Charge System. If you file on or after September 2, 2016, the Online Charge Status System is available for use. The system is not available for charges filed prior to this date or for charges filed with EEOC's state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies. The system can be accessed at the EEOC website. If you do not have internet or need language assistance, you may call the toll-free number at 1-800-669-4000. For additional help, you may also call the toll free number to retrieve the same information provided in the Online Charge Status System.
3. What are my time deadlines?
If you choose to file a discrimination claim with one of these administrative agencies, do not delay in contacting the IDHR or EEOC. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for these agencies to act on your behalf, you must file with the IDHR (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 180 days or the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file a discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.
You may also wish to check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination ordinance. Some cities and counties in Illinois (including Chicago) have agencies that process claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the “Human Rights Commission,” “Human Relations Commission,” or the “Civil Rights Commission.” Check your local telephone directory or government website for further information.
4. What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC?
When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:
- Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
- Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
- Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction
If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, the EEOC may interview witnesses and gather documents. Once the investigation is complete, the EEOC will let you and the employer know the result. If the EEOC decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”
How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).
5. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Illinois?
If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the IDHR or EEOC, however, you may need to pursue your claim in court.
Under the Illinois Human Rights Act, you can choose to file a civil action in a circuit court where the discriminatory act allegedly occurred. Civil actions must follow Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. A civil action suit must be filed within 90 days of receipt of the IDHR Director’s notice that there was substantial evidence for your claim or that your claim could not be resolved.
A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court until the claim is filed with the EEOC, as discussed above, and the EEOC dismisses your claim. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy. A case filed in state court using federal law may be “removed” to federal court by the employer, because it involves a federal statute such as Title VII or the ADEA.
The EEOC must first issue a “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue,” (Form 161) before you can file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.) If you have received one of these EEOC letters, do not delay consulting with an attorney.
This deadline is called the “statute of limitations.” If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.
You have the option to file a discrimination claim in state or federal court. Under state law, punitive damages (damages intended to punish employer) cannot exceed three times the amount awarded for actual (compensatory) damages. In certain instances, this can be more or less than the $50,000 federal limit on compensatory and punitive damages. You may want to consult with an attorney about the benefits of filing in state court versus federal court.