The Illinois Human Rights Act is the primary Illinois law prohibiting employment discrimination, making it a violation of Illinois law for employers to discriminate against an employee based on that employee’s race, religion, gender, pregnancy status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and other characteristics. It provides many of the same protections as Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and in fact broadens those protections. Therefore, employers should take note of any change made to the Act, including the changes made a couple of weeks ago.
After a month of hearings before the Senate and House Task Forces on Sexual Misconduct, on August 24th Governor Rauner signed into law P.A. 100-1066, which makes some notable changes to the Act. These include:
- Increasing the time an employee has to file a charge with the Department of Human Rights from 180 days to 300 days from the time of the alleged civil rights violation.
- Permitting an employee to file a lawsuit against his or her employer 60 days after filing a complaint with the Department instead of waiting for the Department’s investigation to be completed.
- Restructuring the commission so it is comprised of seven full-time members as opposed to 13 part-time members. This is supposed to reduce the backlog of cases and prevent such a backlog from occurring in the future.
These changes probably will not have a huge effect on employers. While employees now have more time to file a charge with the Department, they already have 300 days to file such a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, so in practice there probably will not be a significant increase in the number of lawsuits filed against the employer. Lawsuits could be filed sooner as a result of the reduced backlog and the ability to file a suit before an investigation is completed, so this could result in more lawsuits against employers, as plaintiffs may not be discouraged by long waits to file such suits. So, on balance, these changes probably expose employers to a greater risk of being sued, although probably not much more.