Discrimination in the workplace creates an uncomfortable atmosphere for everyone, disrupts productivity, and is against the law. No one should show up to work every day having to think about how their co-workers or employer will treat them because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin. When an employer discriminates against an employee, they need to be held accountable for the harm they've caused.
Workers in Illinois are protected from discrimination from their employer in hiring, firing, compensation, job duties, and other job conditions based on the employee's protected status, including:
- National Origin
- Citizenship Status
- Age (over 40)
- Marital Status
- Military Status
- Genetic Information
- Arrest Record
State and Federal Discrimination Laws
Employees and job-seekers are protected against unlawful discrimination by federal and Illinois state laws. Federal laws protecting employees include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the American Disabilities Act (ADA); Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA); Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA); and others.
Under state law, the Illinois Human Rights Act and Whistleblower Act offer similar protections. The Illinois Department of Human Rights investigates claims of employment discrimination against private employers, government agencies, unions, and employment agencies.
Discrimination shows itself in many ways. Employers generally do not openly state that they are not hiring an applicant because of their race or sex. A supervisor is not likely to tell an employee that they are not giving them a promotion because of their sexual orientation. Instead, there may be discrete signs of discrimination. This includes making inappropriate jokes about certain races, genders, or religions. It could include making racially charged comments or regularly favoring certain employees over others.
Harassment in the Workplace
Not all workplace discrimination involves hiring or firing, or other adverse employment terms. Harassment in the workplace is also illegal. Many individuals are harassed by their employers or coworkers based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion. Sexual harassment involves “any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature.”
Harassment can include obvious improper behavior, such as an employee's boss offering preferred treatment if they have sex. However, it can also include seemingly playful behavior, such as making repeated jokes or comments that make the employee feel uncomfortable. Employers need to take claims and allegations of harassment seriously and address the problem, otherwise, they may find themselves in violation of the law.
If you believe you may be the victim of harassment in the workplace, you should consult your employee policies on reporting harassment. This usually involves reporting your complaints to a supervisor. This should be done in writing so that there is a record of your complaint. You may also wish to file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
If your employer ignores the problem, blames you for the inappropriate behavior, or retaliates against you, you may want to contact an Illinois employment law attorney. Your lawyer will evaluate your case, file a claim or lawsuit, represent you during any legal or administrative hearings, and seek damages against those who have violated your rights.
Retaliation for Reporting Discrimination or Harassment
Reporting workplace discrimination and harassment may be difficult for some employees. They may fear that reporting illegal or inappropriate activity may label them a troublemaker. However, the law protects those who report discrimination violations or participate in discrimination investigations. Retaliation against an employee who speaks up about discrimination or harassment is prohibited by state law.
The Illinois Whistleblower Act protects employees from disclosing certain information to government or law enforcement agencies, including reporting violations of a state or federal rule, law or regulation. This includes reporting harassment, discrimination, or retaliation against other employees.
Filing a Discrimination Claim
If you are a victim of workplace discrimination, you may want to file a discrimination claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) or the federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Your attorney can advise you of your rights under the law and file your claim. Filing a complaint with one of the agencies allows both agencies to cooperate.
Generally, complaints must be filed within 180 days of the discrimination for the IDHR, or 300 days with the EEOC. The EEOC may ask you and your employer to participate in mediation. If the IDHR finds substantial evidence of discrimination, you can pursue a claim in the Illinois Human Rights Commission. If the EEOC finds evidence of discrimination, they may try and reach a voluntary settlement with the employer.
If the IDHR or EEOC does not find that you were discriminated against, they will send a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This allows for a private cause of action to sue the employer in a court of law. Contact your attorney with any questions about how and when to file your complaint, so that your rights are secured and your claim is taken seriously.
Discrimination Remedies and Damages
If you take your discrimination case to federal court, you may have a variety of legal remedies available. This includes financial damages for lost wages, loss of promotion or advancement, lost severance payments, and loss of benefits. Your claim may also include punitive damages in some cases, which act as a penalty to disincentivize others from engaging in similar discriminatory treatment in the future. Some employees seek to be reinstated in their previous position, have the employer make reasonable accommodations, or be promoted.
Illinois Workplace Discrimination Attorneys
If you suspect that you were wrongfully fired, terminated, or discharged from your job, you should speak with an experienced attorney who understands Illinois employment law. If you were retaliated against for reporting discrimination, or you continue to be harassed in the workplace, you may want to contact a lawyer. Our attorneys have successfully handled employment discrimination cases for our clients in Peoria and throughout the state of Illinois. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve.