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Amendments to Illinois Human Rights Act Allows Claimants to Bypass IDHR and Extend Filing Deadline

Late last month, the Illinois Human Rights Act was amended to provide a new judicial option for complainants and a longer charge filing period. Complainants now have the right to opt out of the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") investigative process and request a right to sue. From there, they can take their claims directly into court. The time for filing charges has also been expanded from 180 days to 300 days. These changes align the Illinois Human Rights Act with federal statutes such as Title VII that provide complaining parties both with the right to forego investigation and a longer filing period.

The amendments also restructure the Illinois Human Rights Commission. The 13 part time administrative law judges will be eliminated in favor of 7 full time positions. The hope is that cases will move more quickly through the Commission instead of the years of inactivity that parties now face. Ideally, this will benefit both parties with cases decided more promptly before memories fade or witnesses depart from the company, the state, or from the living more broadly.

It remains to be seen as to whether these amendments will benefit employers. Will the process move any quicker in court or is this just an effort to move cases out of the IDHR and its Commission into state courts where judges have docket issues of their own? There is also the question of costs—the judicial process is typically more expensive, both in terms of manpower and money, as parties will have the right to more extensive discovery, such as depositions, and jury trials.

Only time will tell. We did not see a significant uptick in state law claims after the Act was amended several years ago to provide complainants the right to bring suit in state court instead of the Commission. Ultimately, the amendments may have little effect if complainants wish to have their claims handled by the Commission and keep for federal court litigated claims. The bottom line for employers is to remain vigilant at all times: have an EEO and anti-harassment policy, provide training in it and resolve workplace concerns as quickly as possible at the lowest level possible. Evaluate workers honestly and accurately. Impose discipline when needed. Most importantly, follow through with proper documentation so that if you face future charges, any employment action can be defended regardless of the forum.

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