Chicago Amends Human Rights Ordinance, Prohibits Military Status Discrimination

Posted: March 11, 2016

Effective March 16, employers in Chicago, IL are prohibited from discriminating against an individual who is a current or former member of the military.[1]

Previously, the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance addressed “military discharge status”. With the passage of SO2015-8051, the definition has been amended more broadly to “military status” which means “(1) being on active duty in, or in any reserve component of, any branch of the armed forces of the United States, the State of Illinois, or any other state; (2) being a veteran of any such branch of the armed forces; or (3) the fact of discharge from any such branch of the armed forces and the reasons for such discharge.”

The protections afforded to individuals under this Ordinance apply regardless of whether the former service member was discharged honorably or otherwise. Further, there are no minimum service requirements before the Ordinance protections become effective. However, the Ordinance does not apply to military personnel from other countries. The Commission on Human Relations has published a “Military Status Discrimination FAQ” and a “Fact Sheet” that impacted employers are encouraged to review.

While employers are not required to provide preferential treatment to applicants based on military status, the Fact Sheet provides several examples of what could constitute military status discrimination. One such example is the failure to hire a “disabled veteran because the employer assumes that veteran might take too much time off work for medical reasons and increase the employer’s medical insurance premiums.”

Also outlined in the Fact Sheet, penalties for violation of the Human Rights Ordinance may include: (1) fines of $100-$1,000 per incident, (2) damages and attorney fees paid to the complaining party, (3) an injunction ordering specific actions to eliminate discriminatory practices and (4) business license discipline.

Chicago is not the only city or state to offer protections to members of the military. Wisconsin, California, Ohio, Washington, New York and Minnesota are all among several jurisdictions that provide some sort of protection to current and former service members from discrimination in the employment context. Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published detailed information regarding protections afforded to veterans under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. Employers who wish to consider an individual’s military history when evaluating a candidate for employment are advised to consult with qualified legal counsel regarding applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations.

[1] This amendment also amended the Fair Housing Ordinance, prohibiting landlords from refusing to rent, charge higher rents or require higher security deposits to qualified applicants who are current or former members of the military.

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