Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms and, in Illinois, a large number of personal characteristics are protected and legally actionable under the Illinois Human Rights Act (the “Act”). For example, if your employer has discriminated against you on the basis of your race, skin color, religion, gender, national origin, age, sexual orientation, or pregnancy (among others), you may have the basis to file a “Charge of Discrimination” with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (the “IDHR”) – the Illinois governmental department responsible for investigating and otherwise administering the Act.

There are several important changes coming to the Act and IDHR’s administration of Charges that, on the whole, seem to make life a little easier for employees bringing discrimination claims. Senate Bill 20, sponsored by Chicago Senators Heather Steans and Barbara Flynn Currie, would dramatically increase the time an employee would have in which to file a Charge of Discrimination, the first step in process towards an eventual discrimination lawsuit. As of now, an employee has only 180 days from the time of an adverse employment action (for example, your employer using one of the protected characteristics above to make decisions related to your hiring, selection, promotion, transfer, pay, tenure, discharge, or discipline) to file a Charge. But under Senate Bill 20, an employee would have 300 days from the adverse action to file their Charge with IDHR. That is important because if often takes an employee a significant amount of time to mentally process a traumatic event like workplace discrimination, find an attorney, and move towards filing a Charge.

Second, Senate Bill 20 would allow an employee filing a Charge to opt out of the IDHR’s investigation process and move immediately towards filing a lawsuit in Circuit Court. Employees previously had to wait until the IDHR resolved its mediation and investigation processes, which often took six months or more. Now an employee can file a Charge, opt-out of the remaining processes, and head straight to court. While it might not make sense in every case, this new opt-out process is a powerful tool for employees to avoid what was previously a lengthy IDHR process. As time passes, witnesses move away, documents are lost, and memories fade. Allowing employees to file a lawsuit without that long passage of time will hopefully avoid those problems. It remains to be seen, but it could also lead employers to seek earlier resolution of potential claims, as employers might now face the significant cost of defending a discrimination claim in court sooner than later.

While Senate Bill 20 provides for other changes to the Human Rights Act, the time extension and ability to opt-out will provide the greatest impact for employees facing workplace discrimination. On May 30, 2018, both chambers of the Assembly unanimously passed Senate Bill 20 and it is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.

If you believe you’ve been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, you need an experienced employment lawyer to help you evaluate your potential claims and options. Ethan White and Emery Law have more than a decade of pure litigation experience, primarily focusing on employee-side employment disputes, with near daily courtroom experience in both state and federal courts. We have tried cases in DuPage County, Cook County, and the Northern District of Illinois and have litigated matters in nearly every other county in the Chicagoland area. We’ve worked for federal judges and trained at the biggest law firms in the world, but our small-firm approach ensures that our clients get the individual attention they deserve without the expensive overhead.

Please contact us today for a free case evaluation and find out how we might be able to help you.