City Council Passes New Amendments Introduced by Mayor Emanuel to fight discrimination and Strengthen the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance

November 26, 2013

Changes include specific addition of punitive damages, fines for frivolous complaints, and increased fines for violations

Kenneth Gunn    312.744.1545

November 26, 2013, the Chicago City Council approved new amendments to the city's Human Rights and Fair Housing Ordinances. One of the added provisions provides statutory authority for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations to award punitive damages in cases of discrimination where the individual or entity was found to have acted maliciously or in reckless disregard of a person's rights. The amendments became effective December 6, 2013.

In introducing the legislation November 13, 2013, Mayor Emanuel stated, "This amendment will make it clear to all parties in cases filed with the Commission that the city does have the authority to award punitive damages." He added, "Punitive damages are an important tool to address blatant discrimination where the offender has acted in reckless disregard of the law. They serve as strong deterrent to discrimination."

The ordinances prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodation, and credit based on 15 protected classes: race, sex, color, sexual orientation, ancestry, gender identity, national origin, marital status, religion, parental status, disability, military discharge status, age (over 40), source of income, and credit history (employment only).

In addition to the punitive damages provision, another change allows the Commission to issue fines for the filing of frivolous discrimination complaints. Complaints will be deemed frivolous if the Commission concludes, based on objective facts, that a complaint is clearly frivolous, vexatious, or brought primarily for the purposes of harassment. The fines for filing frivolous complaints will range from $250-$1,000 per occurrence.

"Frivolous complaints are an abuse of the civil rights laws of our city which were carefully and thoughtfully created to prevent and punish acts of discrimination which impact the public's opportunities to obtain housing, jobs, credit, and access public places and services," said Commissioner Noriega. "These complaints serve to harass others and waste valuable city resources expended to investigate them."

To further enhance the enforcement powers of the Commission, the City Council also approved the Mayor's request to increase the level of fines payable to the city from a maximum of $500 per occurrence to $1,000. In addition to fines, the Commission may also award compensatory damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees for acts of discrimination. This is the first increase in these fines in more than 20 years.

The Chicago Commission on Human Relations is charged with enforcing the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance and the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance. The Commission investigates complaints to determine whether discrimination may have occurred, and uses its enforcement powers to award damages and injunctive relief for acts of discrimination. Under the City's Hate Crimes Law, the agency aids hate crime victims. The CCHR also employs pro-active programs of education, intervention, and constituency building to discourage bigotry and bring people from different groups together.


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