Title VII prohibits employers from subjecting employees to adverse employment actions on the basis of race and national origin. Examples of adverse employment actions include constructive discharge, termination, refusal to hire, discrimination or harassment, and exposure to a hostile work environment. Employers are further prohibited under Title VII from taking part in retaliatory practices, should they oppose employment practices made unlawful by Title VII or participate in any way in a Title VII proceeding.
Title VII applies to employers who have at least fifteen employees working each day for the twenty weeks preceding the filing of the civil claim. Title VII applies to all private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions.
In order to bring a civil claim under Title VII, an individual must first file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). From the date of the adverse action, employees typically have 300 days to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
Plaintiffs successful in bringing suit under Title VII may be entitled to back pay, reinstatement or front pay, compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees. In cases where the employer acted intentionally, with malice, or with reckless disregard, a successful plaintiff may also be awarded punitive damages. Under Title VII, both compensatory and punitive damages are statutorily capped based on the number of individuals employed by the employer. For employers with 15-100 employees, a plaintiff may be awarded no more than $50,000 in compensatory damages and no more than $50,000 in punitive damages for willful violations. For employees with 101-200 employees, the cap for each is $100,000. For employers with 201-500 employees, the cap is $200,000. For all other employers, the cap is $300,000 for each category of damages.
Section 1981 prohibits employers from interfering with the employee’s right to make and enforce contracts, on the basis of race. Federal case law has interpreted Section 1981 as prohibiting employers from taking disparate action against an employee, solely on the basis of race.
Unlike Title VII, Section 1981 applies to all employers, regardless of the number of employees the employer has. Further, both federal and state courts have jurisdiction over Section 1981 claims, and there is no need to file with either the EEOC or the Illinois Department of Human Rights before filing a civil law suit. There is a four-year statute of limitations to file suit in court under Section 1981.
Section 1981 plaintiffs may be entitled to back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, discretionary attorneys’ fees, and injunctive relief. Unlike compensatory and punitive damages under Title VII, there are no statutory caps on damages for violations of Section 1981.
Moreover, race and national origin discrimination violates Illinois state law. The Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1-10, is generally administered by the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”). The IHRA applies to all individuals, and in part makes it unlawful for an employer to subject an employee to an averse employment action on the bases of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, physical or mental handicap, military status, or sexual orientation. Examples of adverse employment actions include constructive discharge, termination, refusal to hire, demotion, discrimination or harassment, and exposure to a hostile work environment. The IHRA moreover contains a provision making it unlawful to retaliate against employees who oppose discriminatory behavior or participate in any sort of proceeding relating to a complaint of discrimination.
In order to bring a civil claim under the IHRA, an injured employee must first exhaust the administrative remedies by filing a charge with the IDHR. From the date of the adverse action, employees have 180 days to file at the IDHR. Once the IDHR has progressed through investigation, and issued a finding, the employee may file a lawsuit in state court or proceed to the Human Rights Commission.