On April 27, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, held that hostile work environment based on disability harassment as well as failure to provide reasonable accommodation are separate and distinct claims under the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”). Rozsavolgyi v. City of Aurora, 2016 IL App (2d) 150493 (4/27/2016). The IHRA prohibits discrimination in employment and other contexts based on a variety of protected classifications, including disability. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant violated the IHRA by discriminating against her on the basis of her disabilities, subjecting her to harassment on the basis of her disabilities (creating a hostile work environment), failing to provide her with reasonable accommodation for her disabilities, and retaliating against her for her complaints by terminating her employment. On appeal, the defendant argued, among other things, that there is no separate claim for disability harassment or failure to accommodate under the IHRA. The appellate court disagreed and reached the opposite conclusion through its statutory interpretation of the IHRA, based on Illinois Human Rights Commission decisions, legislative history, and federal court decisions construing analogous federal statutes.
This appellate decision essentially confirms what most employment law attorneys have assumed to be the case. The IHRA provides broad protection for a wide range of protected characteristics. Illinois courts as well as the Illinois Human Rights Commission often interpret the IHRA based on federal court decisions involving similar claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Federal law is clear that hostile work environment claims are not limited to sexual harassment, but also include harassment based on any protected classification. There is also a separate claim for failure to accommodate under federal law, the elements of which are different than those for a disability discrimination claim. Illinois and federal claims for discrimination, hostile work environment, failure to accommodate, and retaliation may all be filed together in the same lawsuit.