Most people think the law protects them from any form of employment discrimination. This is not true. 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, gender, or age. The purpose of the Illinois Human Rights Act is to protect workers in Illinois from unlawful discrimination in employment. Illinois is an employment at will state which means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason as long as the discharge is not based on a protected statue. An employer can treat you unfairly which does not constitute unlawful discrimination unless the action was based on race, gender, age, or another protected status.
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, gender, pregnancy and childbirth, 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 we 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.
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, will 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, we may file with either agency. Similarly, if your workplace has between 15 and 20 employees, we would file your age discrimination claim with the IDHR, as federal law covers only employers with 20 or more employees in age discrimination cases.
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 but an experienced attorney can make the difference. IDHR complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date of the discrimination against you.
What are the 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
What we can do to help you.
Leskera Law Firm will evaluate your case to see if it falls within the discrimination the law protects. If so, we can file your case with the appropriate agency, work the case through the system, and file a lawsuit after we receive a right to sue letter. We have experience is discrimination cases based on age, gender, and race and would be pleased to offer you assistance.