I receive many calls from people have been fired or discharged from their job.
It is important to know that Illinois is considered to be an at-will employment state. This means that your employer is free to fire you for any reason they want, including no reason at all.
However, termination becomes a possible legal cause of action when the person who is being fired is within a protected class. It is illegal for an employee to be fired because of his race, sex, sexual orientation, age, handicap, or any other number of reasons that U.S. Congress and the State of Illinois has deemed protectable.
I recently had a client come to our office after being fired from her job. She believed she was fired because she was refusing her boss’s advances for sexual favors. This claim would be a possible claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
While these claims can be very complex and expensive to prosecute, there is a general process to follow.
1. If a client feels that they have been discriminated against and they are within a protected class, they should contact the department of human rights and file the claim.
This has 2 advantages:
a. The people who staff these departments have a lot of experience in weeding out substantive vs non-substantive claims. In talking to the people at the department of human rights, they will be able to tell you right away whether or not you have a possible claim.
b. The services are free.
2. As part of your claim, there will be some limited discovery done against your employer.
The discovery or research could include reviewing the employee’s employment file and copies of records showing other employee’s reasons for termination or conducting interviews with the agents of the employer who participated in the decision to terminate.
The goal is to determine whether or not there was a discriminatory act on the part of the employer in the decision to terminate. This is a very expensive and time consuming process that is free to the claimant.
3. The discovery will usually result in some determination by the respective office investigating the employer.
The department of human rights will either find a basis for the claim, not find a basis for the claim, or will issue what is commonly referred to as a Right to Sue letter.
This Right to Sue letter is imperative; before filing a federal EEOC claim in federal court, there is a requirement that the claimant must exhaust all administrative remedies. These remedies include processing the claim through the respective EEOC office. Once a claimant has a Right to Sue letter, they are then free to hire an attorney to file a lawsuit.
It is important to remember that the damages for these cases vary considerably. Since most times the out of pocket expenses are going to be limited to the loss of wages between the day of termination and the day of judgment, the real value in the case is the provision that provides for attorney’s fees in the event your lawyer is victorious.
This attorney’s fees provision will provide an incentive to the attorney to take your case, but you should be careful to only retain an attorney who has experience in these areas.