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Rauner to consolidate Human Rights Commission within department

Gov. Bruce Rauner (pictured on Feb. 27, 2017) plans to sign an executive order on Friday to consolidate the Human Rights Commission into the state's Department of Human Rights — a move his administration says will help to expedite discrimination complaints. | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner plans to sign an executive order on Friday to consolidate the Human Rights Commission into the state’s Department of Human Rights — a move his administration says will help to expedite discrimination complaints.

Rauner’s administration says there are more than 1,000 cases pending at the Human Rights Commission, which adjudicates complaints of civil rights violations based on protected classes in employment, real estate transactions, financial credit, public accommodations and education.

The average time after filing a charge of discrimination is more than four years, the administration says. And the backlog is being blamed on “inefficient communication and sharing resources” between the two entities.

“I think this will be better for people who have been discriminated against, and also better for employers so their liabilities aren’t growing,” said Jay Shattuck, executive director of the Employment Law Council. The council represents Illinois businesses on employment law topics.

Shattuck said some cases have taken as long as seven or eights years to be resolved.

While the two are meant to act as checks and balances to one another, the administration says the consolidation will not compromise the commission’s independent review of the cases.

Typically, the department is given a year to investigate a discrimination complaint. If it finds substantive evidence of discrimination, the case is turned over to the commission, whose three-member panel takes additional testimony and makes a determination.

The consolidation will produce faster action in both investigative and legal proceedings, the administration contends, and will save taxpayers $500,000 in the first year.

The General Assembly will still have 90 days to weigh in on the move. State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said legislators will be taking a close look at the measure.

“The bigger picture here is that we’re talking about a time with a lot of changes that are happening on the federal level — fragile people, the LGBT population, women’s rights issues are at risk and to try to save dollars at the expense of being able to investigate discrimination just seems very wrongheaded,” Steans said.

There were similar efforts to consolidate the two in 2003 in the Illinois House — backed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich — but it failed to be called for a vote.