Filing a Discrimination Claim - Illinois

1. 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, national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, age (40 and over), marital status, unfavorable military discharge, military status, 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.

2. 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. Therefore, if your workplace has between 1 and 14 employees and you have a sexual harassment or retaliation claim, you should file with the IDHR, as the EEOC enforces federal law which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you may file with either agency. Similarly, if your workplace has between 15 and 20 employees, you should file your age discrimination claim with the IDHR, as federal law covers only employers with 20 or more employees in age discrimination cases.

There is no private right of action under Illinois law for discrimination claims under the Illinois Human Rights Act, which means that individuals cannot file a discrimination lawsuit in court under Illinois law.

Filing with the IDHR is required to pursue a discrimination claim under the Illinois Human Rights Act. If the IDHR finds "substantial evidence" or misses certain time limits, you can pursue a lawsuit in the Illinois Human Rights Commission, not in court. You are not required to have an attorney to file a discrimination claim with the IDHR. IDHR complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date of the discrimination against you.

To file a claim with the IDHR, contact the nearest office below. More information about filing a claim with IDHR can be found at: http://www.state.il.us/dhr.

Chicago Office
James R. Thompson Center
100 West Randolph Street, Suite 10-100
Chicago, Illinois 60601
Phone: (312) 814-6200
TDD: (312) 263-1579
Springfield Office
222 South College, Floor 1
Springfield, Illinois 62704
Phone: (217) 785-5100
TDD: (217) 785-5125

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 http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.

EEOC's Chicago District Office
500 West Madison Street
Suite 2800
Chicago, IL 60661
Phone: (312) 353-2713
TTY: (312) 353-2421
EEOC's St. Louis District Office
Robert A. Young Building
1222 Spruce Street
Room 8.100
St. Louis, MO 63103
Phone: (314) 539-7800
TTY: (314) 539-7803

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. 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.

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. There is no private right of action under Illinois law for discrimination claims, which means that individuals cannot file a lawsuit in court under Illinois law.

Because Illinois law does not permit a court action to be filed under state law, many Illinois attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court. 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. In a claim before the state administrative agency, the Illinois Human Rights Commission, you cannot be awarded punitive damages, and the Commission is generally less generous than a federal court jury in awarding damages.

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.