The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) was founded in 1979 and has offices in Chicago, Springfield and Marion, Illinois. Its current main office is located on the 10th floor of the James R. Thompson Center (JRTC), 100 West Randolph Street, Suite 10-100, Chicago, IL 60601. IDHR’s Chicago office has had several locations since its creation. The timeline below covers events beginning in 1961, when IDHR’s predecessor agency was known as the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), through the first 25 years of the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
Department of Human Rights Timeline
On July 21, 1961, Governor Otto Kerner signed into law the Illinois Fair Employment Practices Act. Its stated purpose was “To promote the public health, welfare and safety of the people of Illinois by reducing denial of equality of employment opportunity.” That Act created the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), which transformed the legal mandate into procedures designed to make equal employment opportunity a reality in Illinois.
Legislation sponsored by then State Representative Harold Washington, who went on to become the first Black mayor of Chicago, mandated affirmative action by requiring that employers actively recruit and hire members of protected class groups previously excluded from the workforce. Advocates of EEO rights reasoned that governmental entities should take a leading role in affirmative action efforts by setting an example for other employers and making government representative of its constituents.
Since 1974, the Charge Processing Division of the department has received funding through a work sharing agreement with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Through this agreement, the division agrees to complete a specified number of charges each funding year.
Public Act 79-1441 was signed by Governor Daniel Walker, which gave statutory authority to the state’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and required each state agency to appoint an EEO officer and to submit an annual affirmative action plan. The enormous responsibility of monitoring affirmative action continues to be overseen by the Department’s Liaison Unit. That unit is routinely called upon to compile reports regarding the state’s workforce for the Governor’s Office, members of the General Assembly as well as the general public.
1979 The Illinois Department of Human Rights is formed.
A task force convened by Governor Thompson took the first steps toward consolidation of pertinent laws and administrative mechanisms by introducing Senate Bill 1377, the Illinois Human Rights Act. That Act mandated the merger of three existing entities---the Fair Employment Practices Commission, the Illinois Commission on Human Relations and the Illinois Department of Equal Employment Opportunity---to create the Illinois Department of Human Rights. The Act also created the Illinois Human Rights Commission to adjudicate cases brought by the Department. Proponents of the bill reasoned that the most realistic mechanism was to be found in a single administrative agency strategically driven to remedy perceived wrongs in employment, housing, public accommodations as well as financial credit. In 1980, Joyce Tucker was named the first Director of the Department of Human Rights, distinguishing her as the first African American female to head a state cabinet department.
AIDS and AIDS related illnesses were acknowledged as meeting the definition of handicap and a special procedure was adopted to process charges related to these issues. In that same year, sexual harassment in employment was added as a separate jurisdictional basis for charges of discrimination. The Department also saw a tremendous increase in the number of age discrimination charges filed. This was due in part to the removal of the age cap in 1987, allowing any individual aged 40 and over to file age related charges in employment cases. By the close of the decade in 1989, the Department saw the number of charges swell to a record-breaking 5,770, approximately 1,400 more than averaged in previous as well as subsequent years.
Rose Mary Bombela, was appointed Director of the Department, becoming the first Hispanic female named as Director of a state agency. In the Spring of 1995, after a continuing struggle with large backlogs of unassigned cases, House Bill 741 was introduced by State Representative Judy Biggert. This bill was designed to provide a major infusion of resources into the Department, which would eradicate the backlog and allow staff to keep pace with the estimated 4,500 new charges filed annually. That backlog was eradicated in June of 1998.
Other major provisions of HR741 included the designation of the Chief Legal Counsel as the final authority on whether the dismissal of a charge would be sustained or vacated and the reduction from 210 to 60 days for filing a verified response. In 1996, the Department also launched a unique public/private partnership through its Mediation Program, which combines the efforts of the Department’s Legal Division and Center for Conflict Resolution. Through this program, parties to a discrimination charge have the option to participate in a free alternative dispute resolution process prior to investigation. A neutral mediator facilitates settlement. The program averages a 52% settlement rate, totaling over $1.2 million dollars to date in favor of the complainant.
The Department’s Website (www.state.il.us/dhr) was launched. Through the Website, the public has access to the Human Rights Act, Rules and Regulations, forms for filing a charge, model policies and applications to qualify for bidding on state contracts.
Carlos J. Salazar became the Department’s third Director. Under his administration, Governor George Ryan commissioned the Task Force on Hate Crimes.
In an effort to strengthen education and outreach initiatives, Director Salazar opened the Institute for Training and Development. The Institute has as a major focus the training of Illinois businesses on EEO laws related to non-discrimination in employment. In addition, several skill modules are offered on topics of Sexual Harassment Prevention, Diversity Awareness and Conflict Resolution. During its first year of operation, the Institute trained in excess of 480 participants representing such companies as UPS, Mitsubishi and Ameritech.
Rocco J. Claps became the Department’s fourth Director, the first openly gay man to serve as an agency director.
Under capable leadership, the Department’s primary responsibility will continue to be that of enforcing the Human Rights Act in a fair and equitable manner. To do so, it will constantly monitor its operations to ensure that staff members are trained and equipped to perfor their duties effectively. The Department will continue to respond rapidly to issues of discrimination and to seek appropriate remedy for affected parties. Finally, the Department will continue to educate the public about the causes and effects of discrimination and the right to live and work in an environment free from unequal treatment.
In its twenty year history, the Department of Human Rights has expanded its programs to meet the challenges of growth in an ever more complex world.
In February of 2003, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich appointed Rocco J. Claps as Director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
Under his leadership, the Department has made significant strides in addressing its priorities: providing individuals with an avenue for the timely redress of unlawful discrimination; education, outreach and training to increase awareness and understanding regarding unlawful discrimination; formulating laws to combat discrimination and hate crimes in Illinois; enhancing state agencies’ compliance with EEO/AA guidelines and public contractor and eligible bidder compliance with nondiscriminationand affirmative action legal requirements; and generating revenue for the state of Illinois.
A few of the many accomplishments of the Department
over the past ten years are listed below.
- Sexual Orientation -- Governor Rod R. Blagojevich signed into law a bill that adds “sexual orientation” as a basis of discrimination to the Human Rights Act. The state of Illinois holds the distinction of being one of fifteen (15) states to protect an individual from discrimination because of his or her sexual orientation. Illinois is only one of five (5) states to offer protection for gender identity.
- Electronic Hate Crimes Bill -- Governor Rod R. Blagojevich signed into law a bill that will further protect residents from hate crimes by extending current legislation to shield individuals from harassment through electronic communication.
- Fair Housing (Interference/Coercion) – This makes it a civil rights violation to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise of their fair housing rights under the IHRA. This provision better aligns the IHRA with the federal Fair Housing Act to make the IHRA more substantially equivalent to the Fair Housing Act.
- IDHR has brought federal dollars into the state by contracting with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to process charges of employment discrimination.
- In fiscal year 2004, the Department docketed 4,000 charges, the largest number of charges in recent years; and 3,946 charges in fiscal year 2005.
- IDHR successfully completed its initial five-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to investigate charges of housing discrimination under HUD's Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP).
- IDHR created a separate and distinct Fair Housing Division confirming IDHR’s commitment to address housing discrimination in the state of Illinois.
- IDHR’s Training Institute continues to facilitate Anti-Discrimination Programming and has trained over 6,000 individuals over the past three years.
- A grant was awarded to IDHR from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish the Department’s Immigration Public Education and Outreach Project in Illinois. This project focused on training and outreach in the immigrant community relative to the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
- One of the Department’s priorities has been to focus on building and improving partnerships/ relationships to enhance the work of the Agency.
- IDHR hosted the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA). This conference brought national prominence to the state and focus on the work of Department. The current membership for IAOHRA is 187 human/civil rights agencies in the United States, Bermuda, Canada and Ghana.