Illinois Human Rights Act Amended To Include Sexual Orientation

Effective July 1, 2005 the Illinois Human Rights Act has been amended to prohibit discrimination against Illinois citizens on the basis of sexual orientation.

This new law broadens discrimination protection in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations by adding sexual orientation to the list of protected classifications, which also includes race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, physical or mental handicap, military status or unfavorable discharge from military service. According to the amendment, sexual orientation is defined as “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or gender-related identity, whether or not associated with the person’s designated sex at birth.”

Illinois is the 15th state to prohibit discrimination by private employers on the basis of sexual orientation. Other states that have enacted such legislation are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia. The Illinois act specifically states that it is not intended to provide preferential treatment or special rights on the basis of sexual orientation.

Under the act, individuals are not permitted to file suit in federal or state court. Rather, they must pursue their remedies before the Illinois Human Rights Commission within 180 days of the claimed discrimination. Thereafter, the commission has the authority to investigate, conciliate and/or hold a hearing. If, after a hearing, the commission determines a violation of the act has occurred, then it may order, among other things, reinstatement, back wages, attorney fees and civil penalties. If the commission finds no violation, the aggrieved individual must appeal that decision through the courts.