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Small business advocates warn anti-discrimination measure could mean more litigation

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Friday, August 3, 2018  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Business (10) , Labor (55) Guzzardi, Will--State House, 39
A state lawmaker is pushing for the governor to sign a bill that some worry would open small employers to frivolous discrimination lawsuits.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said there’s a problem in state law.

In “most small businesses around the state of Illinois, it is perfectly legal to discriminate against employees on the basis of age or gender or disability status, or religion,” Guzzardi said.

House Bill 4572, on the governor’s desk, would open up businesses of 15 or fewer employees to be investigated for various wrongful termination cases involving allegations of discrimination.

“We have the discriminator-in-chief in the White House who’s trying to ban Muslims from entering our country, who has a long track record of harassment and discrimination against women,” Guzzardi said. “We have an opportunity in the state of Illinois to stand up against those kinds of behaviors.”

National Federation of Independent Business Illinois State Director Mark Grant urged Gov. Bruce Rauner to veto the bill. Grant said many small business owners treat employees like family and don't have the resources to handle additional regulations.

“The way this is set up, you’re going to see a lot of litigation created against the smallest of the businesses,” Grant said. “They don’t have [human resources] departments, they’re not prepared to be able to deal with this kind of stuff.”

Guzzardi said Chicago already has such measures and said he’s not aware of small businesses there being overly burdened. Other jurisdictions also have such regulations in place for small businesses, but there is no statewide avenue to file complaints against businesses of fewer than 15 employees for alleged discrimination.

Small businesses "are trying to find employees,” Grant said. “They are increasing wages and benefits wherever they can possibly afford to. They’re trying to keep their workplaces safe and healthy. They want happy employees – especially the smallest ones. They see their employees as family.”

If the law were approved, small businesses without a staff attorney could find legal bills into the thousands of dollars if a single complaint was filed to the Illinois Human Rights Commission.

“It’s going to be one more thing that Illinois businesses have to deal with from a state that likes to put in a lot of regulations and laws that make it harder to stay in business,” Grant said.

NFIB and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill.

“Illinois cannot afford another burdensome regulation on small businesses that are already closing their doors and leaving this state due to the current long list of regulations,” Chamber President and CEO Todd Maisch said in a statement. “A veto of HB 4572 by Gov. Rauner is imperative to small businesses.”

Another reason Maisch gave for a veto is the backlog of current cases in place at the Human Rights Commission.

"The process to investigate and adjudicate charges of discrimination is tremendously backlogged and does not provide timely resolution of charges of discrimination for individuals or employers," Maisch said. "It takes years to resolve a claim. This legislation will further erode the Department of Human Rights and the Human Rights Commission’s limited resources to investigate and adjudicate claims of discrimination."

A separate bill, Senate Bill 20, would address the backlog, Maisch said, an effort the Chamber supports. SB20 is also on the governor's desk.  

Guzzardi said if HB4572 is vetoed, he’d get lame-duck Republicans to vote for an override.

The governor’s office didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.