Agency Overview and History

​Statutory Structure 

The Illinois Human Rights Act [775 ILCS 5] directs the activities of the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the Illinois Human Rights Commission. The Director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“DHR”) reports to the Governor and sits on the Human Services Cabinet. 

History of IDHR’s Creation 

The Illinois Human Rights Act was introduced by the administration in 1979 to consolidate existing laws and administrative processes addressing civil rights in Illinois. The emergence of the new agency may be attributed to two events occurring during 1978. The first was the formation of a Cost Control Task Force that was charged with examining the structure of all state agencies to see how a more effective and efficient state government could be created. The second was the national convention of Operation PUSH, convened in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bakke decision, where civil rights advocates called for a strengthening of civil rights laws in all the states. 

One issue was the existence of eleven Illinois statutes covering various aspects of discrimination. State laws prohibited employment discrimination, prohibited age discrimination, required equal opportunity for persons with disabilities, required affirmative action in state government, required fairness in lending, prohibited discrimination in credit card issuance, prohibited real estate brokers from discriminating, prohibited blockbusting, and prohibited discrimination against families with children in real estate transactions. The various prohibitions were enforceable through a variety of administrative, civil and criminal mechanisms, although in some instances, no enforcement mechanism had been established. The limited type of discrimination covered by criminal statutes were generally not enforced. Some remedies depended on the filing of a lawsuit and were thus not realistically available to the many complainants unable to afford an attorney. The major administrative agency handling discrimination, the Fair Employment Practices Commission (“FEPC”), was limited to employment matters and was laboring under a severe backlog of charges it was unable to process. The Illinois Commission on Human Relations (“COHR”) and Illinois Department of Equal Employment Opportunity (“DEEO”) had no enforcement authority. A person experiencing discrimination was thus left with the frustrating task of sorting out which, if any, governmental unit would cover the type of injury sustained. The only action available to a victim of housing discrimination, for example, was to request the state’s attorney to file a criminal complaint or to hire an attorney, and these avenues were only available if the complainant was disabled. If not, the only remedy was potential revocation of the broker’s real estate license. 

Businesses, labor organizations, government agencies, and real estate interests were also frustrated by the lack of legal and administrative clarity. Defending against unfounded charges of discrimination and taking steps to comply with the various laws and administrative rules was difficult and costly. Both the Governor’s Task Force and the various members of the civil rights community saw the need for consolidating the laws and administrative mechanisms pertaining to civil rights in Illinois. Governor Thompson introduced Senate Bill 1377, the Illinois Human Rights Act, in 1979. After many proposed amendments and much controversy and opposition, the bill passed the Senate with 54 out of 59 senators voting in favor. The House then passed it as well. 

Governor Thompson signed the bill, creating Public Act 81-1216, on December 6, 1979 at the Chicago Historical Society on the desk at which President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The Governor then appointed a 95-member implementation task force headed by James Compton of the Chicago Urban League, with other members coming from bar associations, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Civil Rights Commission, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, Operation PUSH, Senators Harold Washington and Dawn Clark Netsch, and Representatives Barbara Flynn-Currie, Jim Reilly and Jim Taylor. The task force made plans to consolidate the personnel, rules, records and activities of the three agencies without disrupting ongoing operations. They also proposed and obtained legislative Illinois Department of Human Rights FY18 Annual Report 6 approval for several clarifications and modifications to the new law. They also needed to develop the fourmillion-dollar budget for the new agency and get it approved. Most importantly, this group had the task of screening candidates for the positions of director of the Department of Human Rights and Commissioners for the Illinois Human Rights Commission and making recommendations to the Governor.

On June 19, 1980, the Governor named Joyce E. Tucker as the first director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights. She was the first African-American female to become a permanent head of a state cabinet department. 

Illinois Department of Human Rights 

1979 – The Illinois Human Rights Act merged the Fair Employment Practices Commission, the Illinois Department of Equal Employment Opportunity, and the Commission on Human Relations. The Act prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, financial credit and public accommodations because of race, color, sex, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, unfavorable military discharge, and marital status, as well as retaliation for opposing discrimination. The Act created the Illinois Department of Human Rights to receive, investigate and conciliate charges of unlawful discrimination, and to undertake affirmative action and public education activities. Also created was the Illinois Human Rights Commission, a body with the function of hearing and adjudicating cases brought before it by the Department. The purpose behind creating the Commission was the separation of the enforcement and judicial functions. The Act also repealed and replaced the state laws that were administered by the predecessor agencies as well as some other Illinois statutes addressing civil rights issues. Age and marital status were new protections added with the Human Rights Act. 

1980 – The new department began operations on July 1, 1980. 

Some highlights from IDHR’s early years: 

  • Exercising its initiatory authority, the Department initiated a charge in 1980 challenging the mandatory retirement policy of the Chicago City Colleges, the first case testing the age provision of the Illinois Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Commission upheld DHR’s position and this decision was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court in the Fall of 1981 [See Bd. of Trustees of Cmty. Coll. Dist. No. 508 v. Human Rights Comm’n, 88 Ill. 2d 22, 429 N.E.2d 1207 (1981)]. 
  • During Fiscal Year 1990, more than 100 new staff members were hired and trained to fill new positions and vacancies. This action came on the heels of administration and legislative efforts that resulted in more than one million dollars being added to the operations budget of DHR. 
  • During Fiscal Year 1991, the harsh realities of state agency layoffs prompted CMS to establish a new procedure whereby DHR staff trained Affirmative Action officers to analyze layoff plans for possible adverse impact prior to any layoff. 
  • During FY1993, a supplemental appropriation was passed (SB 312) to address cases held over for investigation from the FEPC, prior to the creation of IDHR. 
  • Effective July 1, 1993, bidders for public contracts were required to have written policies concerning sexual harassment, and state agencies were required to establish, maintain and carry out continuing programs concerning sexual harassment (PA 87-1257). 
  • In 1994, DHR began a pilot mediation program as an alternative to an investigation of the charge. 
  • During FY1997, DHR developed a web page to link to the State of Illinois’ website.