Investigation of Discrimination Complaints

The Commission on Human Relations receives, investigates, and rules on discrimination complaints filed under the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance and Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance.  For more information about the kinds of discrimination these ordinances prohibit and what remedies the Commission can order if a respondent if found in violation, please see Discrimination Cases as well as the applicable Ordinances and Regulations.   

Purpose of the investigation

The Commission’s investigation process begins as soon as a complaint is filed.  The Commission’s purpose in conducting its investigation is to determine whether there is “substantial evidence” of the ordinance violation/s alleged in the complaint.  The purpose is not  to prove the complainant’s case or to audit the respondent’s business for all possible violations. 

The Commission’s investigation is neutral and independent.  The Commission is not the complainant’s attorney or agent.  No party to the case has a right to dictate how the investigation will be conducted.  See Reg. 220.110 for a general description of an investigation.  

Steps in the investigation

1.      Review of written submissions of the parties. 

All investigations include a review of what the complainants and respondents have submitted to the Commission in writing—the complaint and any amended complaints, the responses of each respondent, and the supporting documentation submitted by each party.  Some determinations as to substantial evidence are based only on these written submissions.

Supporting Documentation:  It is important to submit all relevant documents and information you have and want considered, by the deadlines set in the mailing you received after the complaint was filed.  If you know about other witnesses, documents, or physical evidence you want considered, you must tell the Commission what this evidence is and how to obtain it.  The Commission’s Supporting Documentation form is designed to help you submit this information.  You can update your supporting documentation any time before the Commission decides whether there is substantial evidence.


2.      Additional evidence gathering

The Commission will seek additional evidence only as needed to decide whether there is substantial evidence of an ordinance violation, and only if the evidence is (1) readily available through voluntary cooperation or use of the Commission’s investigatory powers, and (2) relevant or reasonably likely to lead to relevant evidence.  Therefore, if you want the Commission to try to obtain certain information, it is important to explain why it is relevant and who has possession or control of it.

Investigative Orders and Subpoenas:  The Commission seeks voluntary cooperation with its investigations but can issue an investigative order to any complainant or respondent requiring that certain information be submitted.  See Reg. 220.120.  The Commission can also subpoena a witness or other information source.  See Regs 220.210 and 220.240.

Testing:  The Commission may use its staff or other individuals to conduct tests to investigate possible ordinance violations.  Testing may occur at any time without notice to the parties tested.  See Reg. 220.110(b)(2).

Role of the investigator and Compliance Committee

Complaints are normally assigned to a Commission investigator within a few days of filing.  The investigator’s name and telephone number are provided in the mailings sent to the parties after complaint filing.  The investigator does not decide whether there is substantial evidence.  That decision is made by the Compliance Committee, a group of senior staff.  See Reg. 220.320.

The assigned investigator has the following responsibilities during the investigation process:

  • Serve as the Commission’s contact point for any communication from the parties.
  • Answer any procedural questions a party may have.
  • Receive all written submissions of the parties.
  • Refer all motions for a ruling by authorized Commission staff.
  • Facilitate settlement of the case if the parties are willing to consider it.
  • Gather additional evidence as needed to decide whether there is substantial evidence.  For example, an investigator may interview witnesses, obtain and review documents, and conduct onsite inspections.
  • Compile and summarize the relevant evidence for consideration by the Compliance Committee.

Based on the evidence and other information in the investigation file, the Compliance Committee decides whether there is substantial evidence of an ordinance violation.  The Commission then mails an order to the parties announcing its decision and enclosing a summary of the relevant evidence and the reasons for its decision.  If substantial evidence is found, the case moves forward to the administrative hearing process.  If not, the case is dismissed subject to the complainant’s opportunity to submit a request for review.

What is “substantial evidence”?

Substantial evidence is defined as “more than a mere scintilla of relevant evidence sufficient to support a conclusion” that the claimed ordinance violation occurred.  There must be substantial evidence of each required element of a claim. 

A finding of substantial evidence does not mean the complainant has won the case, but only that there is enough evidence, if believed, to support a finding that the alleged ordinance violation occurred.  A substantial evidence finding allows the case to proceed to an administrative hearing and a ruling by the Board of Commissioners. 

When deciding whether there is substantial evidence, the Commission cannot make credibility determinations.  This means that unless there is “concrete” or independent evidence to resolve conflicting testimony on a fact which is material to whether an ordinance violation occurred, the Commission must resolve the conflicting testimony in favor of the complainant at this point in the case.  Later, after testimony and cross-examination in an administrative hearing, the hearing officer can decide which testimony is credible and which is not.   

Request for Review

If the Commission finds “no substantial evidence” or dismisses a case in the investigation stage for any other reason (such as lack of jurisdiction or failure to cooperate with the investigation) the complainant may file and serve a “request for review.”  A complainant may use the Commission’s Request for Review form or something equivalent.  Requests for review are governed by Section 250.100 of the Commission’s Regulations.  If considering a request for review, a complainant should be aware of these requirements. 

If served with a request for review, a respondent may move for permission to submit a response, but no response is required.  The Commission will mail an order to the parties granting or denying the request for review.  If the request for review is denied, the complainant may appeal by petition for a writ of certiorari from the Chancery Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, according to applicable law.  If the request for review is granted, the case is reinstated.

Respondents may not make a request for review of a substantial evidence determination.  The hearing process is a respondent’s next opportunity to persuade the Commission that there was no ordinance violation.

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