The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice South
Honorable Dorothy Jackson-Jordan,Ellis Reid, Judge Presiding. Nominal Defendant.
Plaintiff, Bowne of Chicago, Inc. (Bowne), brought this action for injunctive relief and damages against defendants, the Illinois Department of Human Rights (Department) and the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission). Bowne's suit sought to enjoin the Commission from hearing a civil rights complaint that Department brought against Bowne on behalf of the nominal defendant, Dorothy Jackson-Jordan. It also sought damages against the Department for failing to cease its investigation against Bowne and for filing the complaint. The circuit court dismissed Bowne's complaint pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1996)) and Bowne appeals.
On March 27, 1992, Jackson-Jordan filed a charge with the Department alleging that Bowne violated her rights under the Illinois Human Rights Act (Act) (775 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. (West 1996)). Jackson-Jordan amended the charge on September 1, 1994. The Department conducted an investigation and filed a complaint with the Commission on January 7, 1997, approximately 1,747 days after Jackson-Jordan filed her original charge, alleging that Bowne subjected her to sexual harassment in violation of section 2-102(D) of the Act (775 ILCS 5/2-102(D) (West 1996)).
On January 31, 1997, Bowne filed with the Commission a motion to dismiss Jackson-Jordan's complaint. Bowne asserted in its motion to dismiss that the complaint filed by the Department on behalf of Jackson-Jordan was untimely pursuant to section 7A-102(G)(1) of the Act in that the complaint was filed by the Department beyond 365 days from the filing of the underlying charge; thus, the Commission lacked subject matter jurisdiction. On April 30, 1997, the Commission, by the presiding administrative law Judge, denied Bowne's motion to dismiss on the grounds that the term "causes of action," as used in section 7A-102(H), means "charge" and not "complaint" and ordered Bowne to answer the Department's complaint.
On May 15, 1997, Bowne filed a complaint in the circuit court. In its complaint, Bowne asked the circuit court to permanently enjoin the Commission from adjudicating the complaint brought on Jackson-Jordan's behalf. Bowne alleged that the Commission lacked the statutory authority and jurisdiction to adjudicate said matter in that the complaint filed by the Department with the Commission was untimely pursuant to section 7A-102(G) (775 ILCS 5/7A-102(G) (West 1996)). Bowne also sought damages against the Department pursuant to section 7A-102(G)(3) of the Act, which provides that the Department may be liable for costs and damages incurred by a respondent where the Department fails to cease an investigation as required under the Act. The relevant portions of the statute regarding the filing of a charge read as follows:
(1) When a charge of civil rights violation has been properly filed, the Department, within 365 days thereof or within any extension of that period agreed to in writing by all parties, shall either issue and file a complaint in the manner and form set forth in this Section or shall order that no complaint be issued and dismiss the charge with prejudice without any further right to proceed except in cases in which the order was procured by fraud or duress. Any such order shall be duly served upon both the complainant and the respondent.
(2) Between 365 and 395 days after the charge is filed, or such longer period agreed to in writing by all parties, the aggrieved party may file a complaint with the Commission, if the Director has not sooner issued a report and determination pursuant to paragraphs (D)(1) and (D)(2) of this Section. The form of the complaint shall be in accordance with the provisions of paragraph (F). The aggrieved party shall notify the Department that a complaint has been filed and shall serve a copy of the complaint on the Department on the same date that the complaint is filed with the Commission.
(3) If an aggrieved party files a complaint with the Human Rights Commission pursuant to paragraph (2) of this subsection, or if the time period for filing a complaint has expired, the Department shall immediately cease its investigation and dismiss the charge of civil rights violation. Any final order entered by the Chief Legal Counsel under this Section is appealable in accordance with paragraph (A)(1) of Section 8-111. Failure to immediately cease an investigation and dismiss the charge of civil rights violation as provided in this paragraph (3) constitutes grounds for entry of an order by the circuit court permanently enjoining the investigation. The Department may also be liable for any costs and other damages incurred by the respondent as a result of the action of the Department.
(4) The Department shall stay any administrative proceedings under this Section after the filing of a civil action by or on behalf of the aggrieved party under any federal or State law seeking relief with respect to the alleged civil rights violation.
(H) This amendatory Act of 1995 applies to causes of action filed on or after January 1, 1996." 775 ILCS 5/7A-102(G), (H) (West 1996).
The Department and the Commission filed a motion to dismiss Bowne's complaint under section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1996)). The court granted the motion and dismissed Bowne's complaint with prejudice.
Bowne asserts that section 7A-102 of the Act bars the Commission from adjudicating Jackson-Jordan's claim because the Department filed a complaint on her behalf more than 365 days after she filed her charge with the Department.
The statute states that Public Act 89-370's amendments (Pub. Act 89-370, § 5, eff. August 19, 1995) apply to "causes of action filed on or after January 1, 1996." 775 ILCS 5/7A-102(H) (West 1996). However, the Act does not precisely define the meaning of "causes of action" as it relates to the Act. As both plaintiff and defendants argue, the determination of whether "causes of action" means charges or complaints is dispositive of this case. If "causes of action" means "charges," then Public Act 89-370's amendments do not apply since Jackson-Jordan filed her charge in 1992. Thus, the Commission could adjudicate her claim. However, if "causes of action" means "complaint," then Jackson-Jordan's complaint filed in January 1997 must be dismissed as ...