Author: David Wolowitz & Michael O'Connor, Prairie State Legal Services
Last updated: June 2008
The Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) is an Illinois law. It is intended to prevent unlawful discrimination against a person in Illinois based on disability. The Act prevents such discrimination in employment, housing, access to financial credit and public accommodations.
Note: The IHRA also protects against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, sexual orientation and military status.
We discuss your rights under the IHRA in the following chapters of this guidebook:
You should refer back to this section whenever you read about your IHRA rights in Chapters 2, 6, 10 and 16 of this guidebook. This section explains what you can do to protect or enforce your IHRA rights if they are violated.
If your case involves housing discrimination, the rules for enforcing your rights are different in some ways. Those differences are noted below.
The Illinois Department of Human Rights
The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) is the state agency that investigates violations of the IHRA. The agency is responsible for enforcing the IHRA when charges are filed.
There are two stages to the enforcement process:
1. You file a "charge" of discrimination with the IDHR, which then investigates the claim. If the IDHR finds substantial evidence to support the charge, the IDHR files a "complaint" with the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission). As of January 1, 2008, you can also sue in Illinois Circuit Court.
2. The Commission conducts a full hearing. If the finding is in your favor, the Commission can award you compensation or other remedies for the discrimination. If you sue in Illinois Circuit Court, you are allowed all the benefits of the court system, including the right to a jury.
Note: In a housing discrimination case, the hearing can be conducted either before the Commission or in Illinois Circuit Court. Also, when housing discrimination is involved, you may choose to avoid any proceedings at the IDHR. Instead, you can directly file a lawsuit against the housing provider. This is explained in more detail below.
Where to File a Charge With the IDHR
If you think your rights have been violated, you may begin the process by filing a "charge." You can do this by writing, phoning or visiting the IDHR office. An intake investigator will interview you. Based on that interview, a charge will be written (see below).
If you wish, you may prepare the charge yourself. A charge may be filed in person or by mail at the Chicago or Springfield offices of the IDHR.
If you wish to file a charge online, the Illinois Department of Human Rights makes complainant information sheets available online. The completed form must be filled out, signed and either mailed or faxed back to IDHR. IDHR will not process forms that are not signed, or are sent via email.
Contact information for the IDHR offices is found at the end of this section.
The Form of the Charge
The charge must be in writing. You must sign it. It must be notarized. It should contain the following:
Time Limits for Filing a Charge
The written charge must be filed with the IDHR no later that 180 days after the date that the alleged act of discrimination occurred.
Note: You are given more time in a housing discrimination case. In such a case, the written charge must be filed with the IDHR no later that one year after the date that the housing provider's act of discrimination occurred.
Investigation by the IDHR
After the charge is filed, a copy is sent to the respondent (the employer, union or organization that has allegedly discriminated against you) within 10 days. The respondent must file a written sworn response within 60 days (30 days in a housing discrimination case).
An IDHR investigator will be assigned to your case. The investigator's job is to look at the evidence to see if there is enough proof to support the charge. The Department has the right to seek a subpoena to obtain documents or interview witnesses if needed.
As part of its investigation, the Department may hold a fact-finding conference. This conference is held in order to get evidence and explore the possibility of a settlement. At the conference, you can have an attorney or other representative, or a translator, if necessary. The Department will provide a sign language interpreter if you request one in advance of the conference.
You must cooperate with the IDHR in the investigation and provide requested information. The IDHR may dismiss the charge if you unreasonably fail to cooperate.
You and the respondent may agree to voluntarily submit the charge to mediation. This is a process whereby an impartial mediator helps the parties to come to a settlement. By going to mediation, the parties do not give up any rights and they do not have any obligation to accept the results of the mediation process. Mediation can be an advantage because it may speed up resolution of the charge. The Department offers mediation to parties involved in charges which are filed in the Department's Chicago office.
The Conciliation Process
If the IDHR determines that there is substantial evidence to support the charge, it may schedule a conciliation conference. This is an effort to persuade the respondent to correct the unlawful discrimination without the need for more formal legal steps.
There are two types of settlement that can be reached. With a "private settlement," you do not need to inform the IDHR of the terms you have reached, and you may withdraw the charge. Under a "Settlement Enforceable by the Commission," the terms of the settlement must be placed in writing and be approved by the IDHR. The advantage of the second type of settlement is that it allows you to ask the Commission to enforce the agreement if the discriminating entity fails to follow through with any of its terms.
If the conciliation process fails to result in a settlement, then the IDHR will file a formal Complaint against the respondent. This is described in more detail below.
When the IDHR attempts conciliation between the parties, the IDHR’s efforts to conciliate do not stay or extend the time for filing the complaint with the Commission or Illinois Circuit Court.
Dismissal of the Charge
When the investigation is over, the IDHR will dismiss the charge if there is not substantial evidence of unlawful discrimination.
The IDHR also may dismiss the charge if it determines any of the following is true:
If it decides to dismiss a charge, the IDHR will give written notice about it to both sides. The IDHR must also give notice of the right to seek review of the dismissal order before the Illinois Human Rights Commission or to start a civil action in the appropriate Circuit Court.
Obtaining Review of the Dismissal of Your Charge
If you disagree with the dismissal of your charge, you may file a request for review with the Chief Legal Counsel of the IDHR. This request for review must be filed in writing with the Chief Legal Counsel at the IDHR Chicago office within 30 days after the date of the notice which dismissed your charge.
The request for review must state the reasons why you disagree with the dismissal. Your request for review may also include documents and/or identify witnesses (with information about how to contact each named witness). If these names or documents were not previously provided during the investigation phase, you must show a good reason why the information was not provided earlier.
The Chief Legal Counsel's office may ask the respondent to file a reply to your request for review. The Department may also further investigate the facts.
The Chief Legal Counsel will then make a decision whether to uphold the dismissal of the charge. If the decision is that the charge should not be dismissed, the Chief Legal Counsel will either:
As of January 1, 2008, if you disagree with the dismissal, you may also start a civil case in Illinois Circuit Court and have the case heard by a jury. If you choose a civil case in Circuit Court, you have 90 days after receipt of the IDHR’s notice of dismissal to do so.
If you file a request for review with the Commission, you can no longer start a civil case in Circuit Court.
If the Chief Legal Counsel Upholds a Dismissal of the Charge
If the Chief Legal Counsel upholds the decision to dismiss your charge, you may file a request that the decision be reviewed in the Illinois Appellate Court. The written petition for review must be filed no later than 35 days after the date of the Chief Legal Counsel's decision. There are five different appellate court districts in Illinois. The petition should be filed in the district which includes the county where the alleged discriminatory action took place.
If the IDHR finds there is substantial evidence to a charge, they must notify you of your right to either start a civil case in Illinois Circuit Court or ask the IDHR to file a complaint with the Commission on your behalf. Civil actions must be commenced within 90 days of receiving the IDHR’s notice. If you decide to have the IDHR file a complaint with the Commission, you must request it in writing within 14 days of receipt of the IDHR’s notice. If you fail to timely request that the IDHR file the complaint, you may only start a civil case.
Finding of Substantial Evidence Complaint to the Commission
If the charge is not dismissed for any of the reasons above, the IDHR must make a decision whether there is substantial evidence to support the charge. This decision must be made within 365 days after the date the charge was filed.
Note: In a housing discrimination case, the IDHR must try to make the determination whether there is substantial evidence within 100 days after the date the charge was filed. If the IDHR requires more time to complete the investigation, the time limit may be extended upon notice to all parties.
If the IDHR determines that there is substantial evidence, it then will file a Complaint of Civil Rights Violation with the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission).
If the Department fails to either issue a Complaint or a notice of dismissal within 365 days after the date your charge was filed, or a longer period agreed to by both parties, you have the right to personally file a complaint with the Commission or start a civil case in Circuit Court. You have 90 days to do either of these. If you do not do one of these within this time period, then your case will end.
Note: In a housing discrimination case, if the IDHR fails to either issue a Complaint or dismiss the case, you do not have the right to personally file a complaint with the Commission. However, in this situation, you do have the right to file a lawsuit in Circuit Court within 2 years from the date of the alleged act of discrimination, not counting the time that proceedings were pending at IDHR.
The Form of the Complaint
If you must personally file the complaint because the IDHR does not do so, the complaint must be in writing, and filed directly with the Commission. The Complaint must contain all of the same information required by the written charge filed with the IDHR. The complaint must be signed and notarized.
Proceedings Before the Human Rights Commission
After the complaint is filed, the respondent has 30 days to file a written reply. Later, a hearing will be conducted before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) appointed by the Commission.
This hearing is open to the public, and is conducted in the same manner as a court hearing. You have the right to require the respondent to provide documents or other information that would support your case. You may subpoena witnesses and documents. It is highly recommended that you have an attorney at this hearing because of the formal legal rules that are followed.
After the hearing, the ALJ prepares a recommended decision which includes a finding of facts. The ALJ also prepares a recommendation about whether the complaint has been proved to be true and the remedies that should be granted. This decision is delivered to you, to the respondent, and to the Commission.
If you disagree with the ALJ's recommended decision, you must file a written argument with the Commission, which explains why you think the ALJ is wrong. You must file this argument with the Commission, and provide copies to all parties, within 30 days after your receipt of service of the ALJ's decision. You may ask for a chance to appear before the Commission to further explain your objections.
Decision of the Human Rights Commission
If neither you nor the respondent file a written argument disagreeing with the ALJ's recommended decision, then the Commission adopts the ALJ's decision and it becomes the final order of the Commission.
If objections have been filed to the ALJ's recommended decision, then the Commission may do one of the following:
If you disagree with the Commission's final order, you may file a written request that your case be "reheard" by the Commission. The request for a rehearing must be made within 30 days after you are served with the final order.
Appealing the Final Order of the Commission
If the Commission does not rule in your favor, or if they do not grant you all of the relief that you seek, you may request that the decision be reviewed in the Illinois Appellate Court. You may do this even if you did not ask the Commission for a rehearing.
The written petition for review must be filed no later than 35 days after the date of the Commission's final order.
There are five different appellate court districts in Illinois. The petition should be filed in the district which includes the county where the alleged discriminatory action took place.
Simplified Proceedings Before the Human Rights Commission
Note: These simplified proceedings do not apply to housing discrimination cases. There are special rules for housing discrimination cases. See below.
If it is not a housing case, and both you and the entity agree, you do not have to go through the formal hearing process outlined above. Instead, you may have your case decided by an ALJ appointed by the Commission.
Under this process, both you and the respondent must voluntarily disclose all of the information you have or know about that is relevant to the case, even if it does not help your side of the case. Your right to conduct formal legal discovery methods, such as depositions, is sharply limited. Most importantly, under this process, both you and the respondent agree to give up your right to appeal the ALJ's decision.
Using the simplified process may be less time consuming and less expensive. Also, if the ruling is in your favor, you don't need to worry about an appeal by the respondent. On the other hand, you may not get as thorough of a hearing as you need to prove your case. Moreover, using the simplified process, you have no right to appeal if you lose.
Special Rules for Housing Discrimination Cases Only: You Can Have a Court Hearing Instead of a Hearing Before the Commission
After the complaint is filed with the Commission, you and the housing provider are allowed to choose whether to have the case heard before the Commission or before an Illinois Circuit Court. The case is transferred to the Circuit Court if either party so requests, even if the other party wants the case to be heard before the Commission. The request to transfer the case to Circuit Court must be made in writing within 20 days after the requesting party receives service of the complaint by the Commission.
The party electing a transfer to the Circuit Court must file a notice with the Commission and give notice to IDHR and to all other parties.
If an election is made to transfer a housing discrimination case to Circuit Court, the Illinois Attorney General's Office will bring the lawsuit on your behalf. The suit will be heard in the court in the county where the discriminatory action took place. The case will be handled in the same manner as any other civil legal case. Both parties will have the right to subpoena witnesses and documents, and conduct depositions.
If you are not satisfied with the Circuit Court decision, you have the right to appeal to the Appellate Court. The procedure for doing so is the same as is outlined above for appealing the Commission's final order. The written petition for review must be filed no later than 35 days after the date of the court's final order.
In the alternative, you may choose to bypass the entire administrative procedure at the IDHR or the Commission. Instead, you may directly file a lawsuit against the housing provider in the Illinois Circuit Court. The suit should be brought in the county where the discriminatory conduct occurred. If you choose this method of handling the case, the lawsuit must be filed no later than 2 years after the date of the act of discrimination. Any period during which a charge or complaint was pending before the IDHR or the Commission will not count toward the 2 year limit.
You may file such a lawsuit regardless of whether you filed a charge with the IDHR. If you have filed a charge with the IDHR or if a complaint is pending before the Commission, the IDHR and the Commission will stop all further action on your case when you file suit. However, you may not file a direct lawsuit if:
If you are too poor to pay for the costs of a lawyer and the lawsuit, the judge has the authority to appoint a lawyer to represent you. The judge also may waive the filing fees and other court costs. The judge can order the party who loses the case to pay the other party's attorney's fees and costs.
If the judge decides that you have proved that the housing provider has violated the Act, you may be awarded any of the following remedies:
1. Actual damages - money to compensate you for the effects of the discriminatory conduct
2. "Punitive damages" - an amount of money intended to punish the housing provider
3. An "injunction" - a court order prohibiting the housing provider from continuing to commit discrimination
If you are not satisfied with the Circuit Court decision, you have the right to appeal to the Appellate Court. The procedure for doing so is the same as is outlined above for appealing the Commission's final order.
Your Legal Remedies for a Violation of the IHRA
If the Commission makes a finding that the respondent has committed unlawful discrimination in violation of the IHRA, they may grant you certain legal remedies. Those remedies will vary depending on the type of discrimination involved.
Your Fees and Costs
If you win a case against a respondent, the Commission (or a court) can order the respondent to pay your attorney fees and other costs of the case. These costs can include the costs paid to expert witnesses. To get an award of attorney fees, you have to win your case.
If the respondent wins the case, the Commission (or a court) will not make you pay the respondent's attorney fees, unless your claim was frivolous or brought in bad faith.
To Contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR)
You can reach the IDHR at the following phone numbers:
(312) 814-6200 (voice)
(312) 263-1579 (TDD)
(217) 785-5100 (v)
To visit the IDHR website, click on the link below:
To contact the Illinois Human Rights Commission (IHRC)
You can reach the IHRC at the following phone numbers:
James R. Thompson Center
100 W. Randolph Street
Chicago, Illinois 60601
Tel: (312) 814-6269
TDD: (312) 814-4760
Fax: (312) 814-6517
William G. Stratton Office Building
Springfield, Illinois 62706
Tel: (217) 785-4350
TDD: (217) 557-1500
Fax: (217) 524-4877
To visit the IHRC website, click on the link below:
Statutes and Regulations
The Illinois Human Rights Act is at 775 ILCS 5. The section of the Act governing charge and investigation proceedings before the IDHR are at 775 ILCS 5/7, 7A, and 7B. The section of the Act governing the proceedings before the Human Rights Commission is at 775 ILCS 5/8, 8A and 8B.
The rules governing the charge and investigation proceedings before the IDHR are at 56 Ill.Admin.Code Part 2520.
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