A bill preventing small businesses in Illinois from discriminating against LGBTQ workers is one signature away from becoming law.
House Bill 4572 would update the Illinois Human Rights Act to fill a loophole in the law allowing businesses which employ less than 15 people to discriminate on the basis of characteristics like race, religion, national origin, military status, marital status, age, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Currently, Illinois is one of just 20 states (and D.C.) with statewide legislation on the books banning bias on basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. But supporters of HB 4572 — which passed both houses of the General Assembly in May — say current regulations leave up to a half million workers vulnerable to being fired or denied employment because of who they are.
Bill sponsor State House Rep. Will Guzzardi claimed such activity remains “perfectly legal” for small businesses across the state.
“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 told the Illinois News Network. “We have an opportunity in the state of Illinois to stand up against those kinds of behaviors.”
HB 4572 has been widely supported by state advocacy organizations. Seventeen civil rights groups — including Equality Illinois and the ACLU of Illinois — urged the bill’s passage in a Tuesday letter to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“At a time when anti-equality forces seek to establish licenses to discriminate and civil rights laws are under attack in state legislatures and courts across the country, signing HB 4572 would send the powerful and unmistakable message that Illinois is best and strongest when state law protects all people from discrimination,” the signatories wrote.
“Your approval on this bill would be consistent with our state’s bipartisan values of fairness, justice, and the freedom to be who you are without burden or discrimination,” the letter continued.
But critics of the legislation say it would harm small businesses by making them targets of costly litigation.
“The way this is set up, you’re going to see a lot of litigation created against the smallest of the businesses,” claimed Mark Grant, the Illinois state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. “They don’t have [human resources] departments, they’re not prepared to be able to deal with this kind of stuff.”
Grant told the Illinois News Network that there have been few discrimination complaints lodged against small businesses in the state, making further regulation burdensome and unnecessary.
Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Todd Maisch added that the Human Rights Commission already faces a sizable backlog of complaints.
“It takes years to resolve a claim,” Maisch said in a press release opposing HB 4572. “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.”
Lawmakers, however, have introduced a separate piece of legislation, Senate Bill 20, to address that issue.
Rauner has declined to state on whether he plans to support HB 4572, and his office did not return request for comment prior to publication time. If he does not weigh in on the bill before August 13, it will become law without his signature.