The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice South
Direct Review of Order of the Illinois Human Rights Commission.
Petitioners, Cut'N Dried Salon, Jeff Bellerive and Beth Ann Brewer, seek direct review of an order of the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission). The Illinois Department of Human Rights (Department) dismissed petitioners' charge of discrimination against respondent National Group Life Insurance Company and their employees, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the Commission affirmed the decision. Specifically, the Commission concluded that the denial of the application for insurance coverage was not equivalent to the denial of the services of a place of public accommodation under the Illinois Human Rights Act (Act) (775 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. (West 1992) and, therefore, the Department and Commission lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the charge.
Complainant Jeff Bellerive owns and manages Cut'N Dried hair salon. Complainant Beth Ann Brewer is a hairdresser employed by the salon. (Complainants are collectively referred to as Cut'N Dried.) Respondent National Group Life Insurance Company (National) is an insurance company doing business in Illinois. Respondents Larry Doze, Steven Loving and Richard Allen are all agents of National. National offers its insurance to businesses through respondent American Small Business Association.
In 1991, Jeff Bellerive submitted an application to National for health insurance coverage on behalf of his employee, Beth Ann Brewer. Petitioners allege that, two days later, Allen informed them that National would not provide insurance for Brewer because "it does not insure employees of hairdressers, interior decorators, florists, graphic designers and a host of other professions." In October, Bellerive contacted Loving of National who explained that they could not insure "high risk occupations" but would insure the owners, managers or partners of such businesses.
In November of 1991, Bellerive obtained group health insurance for Brewer through another carrier at a higher premium than National's. Later that month, Larry Doze, senior vice-president and chief actuary of National Group Life, wrote Bellerive to inform him that National's policy had changed and the company would consider insuring hairdressers at a 20% increase (rate-up) in the premium.
On September 23, 1992, petitioners filed a charge of discrimination with the Department alleging that respondents discriminated against them based upon sex, marital status and perceived handicap by refusing to insure Beth Ann Brewer and subsequently offering to insure her at a 20% rate-up.
On October 8, 1997, the Department dismissed the charge for lack of jurisdiction. The Department, relying on a Human Rights Commission decision, Klein v. John Alden Life Insurance Company, Ill. Hum. Rts. Comm'n Rep. 1983CP0171 (March 5, 1984), declined jurisdiction because there were no allegations that respondent's actions were not based on actuarial principles or reasonably anticipated experiences.
Petitioners filed a request to review the Department's dismissal with the Commission on November 12, 1997. The Commission affirmed the dismissal, also concluding that, according to Klein, it did not have jurisdiction over allegations or discrimination regarding the underwriting of insurance policies because insurance is not a place of public accommodation under section 5-101(A) of the Illinois Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/5-101(A) (West 1992)).
The issue is whether an insurance company falls under the purview of the Human Rights Act as a public accommodation.
The primary rule of statutory construction, to which all other rules are subordinate, is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. People ex rel. Baker v. Cowlin, 154 Ill. 2d 193, 607 N.E.2d 1251 (1992). The most reliable indicator of legislative intent is the language of the statute and any inquiry should begin with that language. People v. Zaremba, 158 Ill. 2d 36, 630 N.E.2d 797 (1994). Where statutory language is clear, it will be given effect without relying on other aids for construction. Where the language is ambiguous, however, it is appropriate to consider the legislative history. Zaremba, 158 Ill. 2d 36, 630 N.E.2d 797. In reviewing decisions of the Human Rights Commission, the appellate court is not bound by the Commission's legal Conclusions, but must review questions de novo. Boaden v. Department of Law Enforcement, 171 Ill. 2d 230, 261, 664 N.E.2d 61, 75 (1996). Because the construction of a statute is a question of law, the standard of review on this issue is de novo. Lucas v. Lakin, 175 Ill. 2d 166, 171 (1997).
The Human Rights Act provides:
"It is a civil rights violation for any person on the basis of unlawful discrimination to:"
"(A)***Deny or refuse to another the full and equal enjoyment of the facilities and services of any public place of accommodation." ...