On December 13, 2017, the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, reversed the circuit court’s dismissal of a workplace discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit on procedural grounds. Metzler v. Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital, 2017 IL App (2d) 170001 (12/13/2017). The plaintiff, who was employed by the defendant for 24 years, most recently as a chemistry supervisor, alleged that he was harassed by a female supervisor, given a negative performance review, suspended, and terminated because of his sex, male, in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act (the “Act”). After his termination, he filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (the “Department”) alleging unlawful sex discrimination in violation of the Act, which prohibits various types of employment discrimination.
When a charge of discrimination is filed with the Department, the Department investigates the charge to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support it. If the Department makes a finding and determination of substantial evidence, the complainant may proceed to the Illinois Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) for a trial before an administrative law judge, or may file a lawsuit directly in court with a demand for a jury trial. If the Department makes a finding of no substantial evidence, the complainant may appeal the decision to the Commission, or file a lawsuit in court. However, if the complainant appeals to the Commission, then he or she may not file a lawsuit in court. This case involved a convolution of that process. After he received a notice of no substantial evidence from the Department, the plaintiff appealed to the Commission, which reversed the Department’s decision and ordered further investigation. The same result and process occurred the second time around–another finding of no substantial evidence, appeal to the Commission, reversal by the Commission, and order for further investigation. But after he received the third notice of no substantial evidence from the Department, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit directly in the circuit court. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that the plaintiff was barred from commencing a civil action in court because he had filed requests for review with the Commission. The circuit court agreed and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The appellate court reversed the dismissal, holding that under the Act, each successive determination of no substantial evidence by the Department provides a complainant with a new opportunity to either appeal to the Commission or file a lawsuit. In other words, the plaintiff’s appeals to the Commission of the Department’s first and second findings of no substantial evidence did not bar him from commencing a lawsuit after the Department’s third finding of no substantial evidence.