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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we explain the employment discrimination laws in Illinois, including how to file a charge with the Illinois Department of Human Resources (IDHR). Federal and state law prohibits all Illinois employers from discriminating against employees.

What is Considered Discrimination in the Workplace in Illinois?

In the state of Illinois, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against individuals based on the following protected categories:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Disability (physical and mental)
  • Age (40 and older)
  • Citizenship status
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Military and veteran status (including unfavorable military discharge)
  • Gender identity
  • Arrest record (including being under an order of protection)
  • Victims of domestic violence
  • Lack of a permanent mailing address or use of a shelter/social service provide

Employment discrimination occurs when an employer mistreats an employee or takes a negative employment action against an employee based on the employee being a member of a protected class. 

Most of the above regulations apply to Illinois employers with 15 or more employees, except for age, citizenship status, and equal pay. Employers with 20 or more employees cannot discriminate against age, employers with four or more employees cannot discriminate against citizenship status, and all employers must provide equal pay for both men and women. Employers with one or more employees must comply with the law’s provisions regarding disability, pregnancy, and sexual harassment.

What is the Equal Opportunity Commission?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace discrimination. The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) is the state department responsible for enforcing state anti-discrimination laws. The IDHR protects Illinois employees by investigating charges of employment discrimination filed against private employers, state or local government, unions, and employment agencies. Individuals can also file charges in some cases.

When seeking to file a lawsuit for workplace discrimination, you must first file a report with the EEOC. This is a required prelude to a lawsuit. Before an attorney can file suit for your matter, you must have your claim investigated by the EEOC. If you are unsure about the process of filing with the EEOC, you may benefit from working with an attorney who better understands what is required and how to best assure your case is heard properly. Discrimination can be complex to prove, so working with an attorney before the courtroom can assure you are protecting yourself and clarifying your claims, which may be helpful to your case overall. 

The IDHR administers the Illinois Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in Illinois concerning employment opportunities, financial credit, public accommodations, housing, and sexual harassment. Illinois law even protects disabled employees more than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, as it defines disability or handicap as a “determinable mental or physical characteristic of a person” and doesn’t require employees to have a substantial limitation of significant life activity. State law also prohibits “aiding and abetting” discrimination, meaning assisting in or not preventing the discrimination from happening.

What is the Illinois Anti-Discrimination Statute?

The Illinois anti-discrimination statute covers smaller employers who may not be covered by federal law regarding ageism, retaliation, and sexual harassment claims. Regarding charges alleging sexual harassment, pregnancy, retaliation, and disability discrimination, only one employee is needed for the IDHR to investigate a case.

The IDHR cannot investigate the following actions:

  • Unfair employment actions, including political affiliations, personality conflicts, etc.
  • Unfair union practices
  • Charges against the federal government – these cases can only be filed with the EEO office of the agency alleged to have discriminated
  • Employers with fewer than 15 employees, unless the type of discrimination is sexual harassment, pregnancy, retaliation, or disability – unless the employer is a public contractor or a unit of state government

If you feel your employer has discriminated against you, you can file a discrimination claim on the state level with the IDHR or the federal administrative agency, the EEOC. Both agencies cooperate to process claims, so filing a claim with both agencies isn’t necessary. If you want both agencies to have a record of or investigate the claim, request to “cross-file” the claim with whatever agency you’re filing with.

A claim can be initiated by calling, writing, or appearing in person at the IDHR’s Chicago or Springfield location within 300 days of the date the alleged discrimination happened. If the discrimination is related to housing, that deadline extends to 365 days. To file a claim, you must submit a completed Employment Complainant Information Sheet (CIS). A charge will be drafted for your signature if your allegations fall under the Illinois Human Rights Act.

To contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), call 800-669-4000. Contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) at 312-814-6200. You can call us at 630-390-4270 to schedule an appointment with an attorney. 

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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