Many Evanston residents know that the City of Evanston is considering whether or not the Evanston Human Relations Commission should continue to exist.  I support the continuation of this Commission. It’s been suggested that Evanston residents could take their concerns to the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) if the Commission no longer exists, but the Commission has a history of addressing (mediating) community issues that would not fall within the jurisdiction of the IDHR.  

The IDHR investigates charges of employment discrimination based on age, physical or mental handicap, arrest record, retaliation, coercion, sex, race, unfavorable military discharge, marital status, color, ancestry, military status, religion, citizenship status, sexual harassment and national origin.  (The IDHR also investigates certain charges of housing discrimination.  More IDHR information can be found on its website:http://www.state.il.us/dhr). 

Because the IDHR was found to dismiss many charges, the Illinois civil rights laws were amended to allow complainants “to sue in state court rather than go through an administrative hearing with the Illinois Human Rights Commission” (see “Job-bias plaintiffs’ day in court to change state’s legal landscape,” Chicago Tribune, November 25, 2007).  

I’m sure the IDHR receives an overwhelming number of charges, but that’s no excuse for the Department’s efforts to thwart the filing of charges.  For example, IDHR staff told a Latina woman that she could not file a charge of discrimination against her supervisor based on ethnicity and age because both she and her supervisor were Latino and at least 40 years old.  When I tried to file a charge of race discrimination against an African-American manager, IDHR staff told me that I could not file this charge because both the manager and I were African-Americans.  I persisted, pointing out that the civil rights laws did not state that a person of a given race could not file a charge of discrimination against a person of the same race.  The IDHR’s interpretation of the civil rights laws reinforces the practice of many companies to place supervisors (overseers) of a certain race (or age, etc.) over employees of the same race (or age, etc.) with the assumption that employee charges of discrimination against these supervisors will not be upheld by the IDHR.  The IDHR finally wrote up my charge identifying the African-American manager as “non-white.” 

The State of Illinois website states that the IDHR had a budget of $12,377M in 2010, and a proposed budget of $11,485M for 2011.  The opinion of many attorneys is that the IDHR is pro-management with employers having little reason to fear IDHR rulings.  If this is so, our elected officials in Springfield need to give serious consideration to the continued existence of the IDHR.  If the IDHR does not perform its duties as mandated, that is, investigate charges of discrimination fairly and without bias, it should be eliminated.  Why should Illinois citizens pay taxes to support a state agency that is a sham?