Frequently Asked Questions
- 1. How is a charge initiated under the Illinois Human Rights Act?
- 2. What is the difference between the Department and the Commission?
- 3. When can a complaint be filed with the Commission?
- 4. How is discrimination proven?
- 5. What are the areas covered under the Act?
- 6. Which protected classes are covered under the Act?
- 7. Do I need an attorney?
- 8. If I cannot afford an attorney, will the Commission appoint one for me?
- 9. What is discovery?
- 10. Can the Commission decide my case without a public hearing?
- 11. If the Commission finds an employer committed a violation of the Act, can the employer go to jail?
- 12. Will a complainant who wins their employment case always be entitled to reinstatement and full back pay?
- 13. Does the Commission have jury trials?
- 14. Does every case go to a public hearing?
- 15. Is my case confidential at the Commission?
1. How is a charge initiated under the Illinois Human Rights Act?
A person cannot initiate a charge alleging violations of the Illinois Human Rights Act (the Act) through the Illinois Human Rights Commission (the Commission). Instead, a charge must first be filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (the Department) which then investigates any alleged violations. If a person has not yet filed a charge, the first contact should be with the Department.
2. What is the difference between the Department and the Commission?
The Act authorizes the Department and the Commission to play coordinated but separate roles in addressing violations of the Act. The Department is the investigatory agency that accepts or initiates charges alleging a violation of the Act and determines whether there is substantial evidence of a violation to warrant filing a complaint. The Commission is the adjudicatory agency that holds hearings and issues decisions on complaints filed with it. The Commission also decides requests for review of the Department’s decision to dismiss a charge for lack of substantial evidence
3. When can a complaint be filed with the Commission?
The Department has 365 days (plus any agreed-upon extensions of time) to investigate a charge. After the investigation is complete, if the Department finds substantial evidence of a violation, the Department can file a complaint with the Commission on behalf of the complaining party or the complaining party can file a complaint with the Commission on its own. Alternatively, if the Department has failed to act on a charge within 365 days (plus any agreed-upon extensions of time), a complaining party can file a complaint directly with the Commission.
4. How is discrimination proven?
There are three general categories of discrimination.
- Disparate treatment: This discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favorably than others because of their membership in a protected class.
- Disparate impact: This discrimination occurs when a policy or practice that is neutral on its face operates in a way that adversely impacts members of a protected class.
- Harassment: This discrimination involves a pattern of unwelcome conduct based on membership in a protected class. Harassment must be more than petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents. To be unlawful under the Act, the conduct must be severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would perceive it to be both subjectively and objectively offensive.
In addition, it is unlawful to retaliate against someone for opposing a violation of the Act, participating in the Commission process, or asserting their rights under the Act.
5. What are the areas covered under the Act?
The Act prohibits discrimination against individuals in connection with employment, real estate transactions, access to credit, public accommodations, and education.
6. Which protected classes are covered under the Act?
The Act secures for all individuals within the State of Illinois the freedom from discrimination based on . . .
- Age (40+)
- Arrest record (in employment and real estate transactions)
- Citizenship status (in employment)
- Conviction record (in employment)
- Disability (physical, mental, and association with a person with a disability)
- Familial status (in real estate transactions)
- Gender identity
- Marital status
- Military status
- National origin
- Order of protection status
- Race (including traits associated with race like hair texture and protective hairstyles)
- Sexual orientation
- Source of income (in real estate transactions)
- Unfavorable military discharge
- Work authorization status (in employment)
7. Do I need an attorney?
When proceeding before the Commission, you may hire an attorney or choose to represent yourself (also called “pro se,” a Latin phrase meaning “for oneself”). Generally, judges hold self-represented litigants to the same standards of professional responsibility as trained attorneys. If you do not hire an attorney, you must become familiar with statutes, case law, and procedural rules that apply to your case. Representing yourself can be complicated, time consuming, and costly. For these reasons, you are strongly encouraged to obtain professional legal assistance from a licensed attorney.
8. If I cannot afford an attorney, will the Commission appoint one for me?
No, the Commission does not appoint attorneys to represent litigants who appear before it. You can contact a legal referral service if you would like help finding an attorney. The Office of the Illinois Attorney General also provides a list of organizations that offer low-cost or even “pro bono” legal advice and representation for those who are unable to afford legal services at the following link: Legal Assistance Referrals (illinoisattorneygeneral.gov).
9. What is discovery?
Discovery is a way for litigants to obtain information from an opposing party to assist in preparing a case for public hearing (i.e., a trial). The primary purpose of discovery is to avoid unfair surprises at the public hearing. Commission rules permit discovery through the use of written questions, document requests, and written requests to admit facts under oath. Commission rules also permit discovery by oral depositions upon the permission of an Administrative Law Judge for good cause shown. Discovery takes place during the period between the filing of an answer to the complaint and the entry of an order setting the date for a public hearing. Generally, an Administrative Law Judge will enter an order setting a discovery schedule following the initial status hearing in the case.
10. Can the Commission decide my case without a public hearing?
Yes, a complaint is subject to dismissal or summary decision (i.e., summary judgment) on legal grounds. Any party may move for dismissal or summary decision in favor of the moving party. If, after considering the briefs and arguments of each side, the Administrative Law Judge concludes that it is unnecessary to hear witnesses or to take additional evidence and that the moving party is entitled to a ruling in its favor, then the Administrative Law Judge will enter a Recommended Order and Decision dismissing the entire case or certain claims raised in the case without the need for a public hearing.
11. If the Commission finds an employer committed a violation of the Act, can the employer go to jail?
No, there are no criminal penalties for violating the Act.
12. Will a complainant who wins their employment case always be entitled to reinstatement and full back pay?
No, the Commission awards monetary and non-monetary relief but may find that reinstatement, back pay, or other forms of relief are not appropriate in certain circumstances. In all instances, a winning complainant must prove their entitlement to any relief or damages sought under the Act.
13. Does the Commission have jury trials?
No, proceedings before the Commission are “bench trials” that are heard by the Administrative Law Judges who work for the Commission. The assigned Administrative Law Judge will rule on both liability and damages in the case.
14. Does every case go to a public hearing?
No, a complaint is subject to dismissal or summary decision (i.e., summary judgment) on legal grounds without a public hearing. The Commission also has a robust settlement program whereby numerous cases are resolved through judicial settlement conferences prior to a public hearing.
15. Is my case confidential at the Commission?
All documents filed in cases before the Commission are considered public records accessible under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. The Commission also is required by law to publish its decision on the Commission’s website and make them available to online legal research databases accessible by third parties.