from the Circuit Court of Lee County. No. 16-L-13 Honorable
Daniel A. Fish, Judge, Presiding.
JUSTICE HUTCHINSON delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justices Burke and Spence concurred in the judgment
1 This workplace-discrimination and wrongful-termination suit
began as a matter of administrative law. When administrative
procedures failed to resolve the case, the complainant filed
suit in the circuit court of Lee County, which ultimately
dismissed the complaint. For the reasons that follow, we
reverse and remand.
2 Plaintiff, Bret Metzler, was employed by defendant,
Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital (KSB), from 1989 to 2013. He
was most recently employed as the hospital's
"Chemistry Supervisor." Metzler alleged that he was
harassed by a female superior, received a negative
performance review, was suspended, and was eventually
terminated solely because of his sex. After his termination,
Metzler filed a complaint alleging unlawful sex
discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act (Act) (775
ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. (West 2014)) with the Director
of the Illinois Department of Human Rights (Department).
3 The Act provides for numerous types of civil actions and
administrative remedies for unlawful, discriminatory conduct
in a variety of contexts. 775 ILCS 5/1-102 (West 2014); see,
e.g., People ex rel. Madigan v. Wildermuth,
2017 IL 120763 (racial discrimination in real estate
transactions); State v. Mikusch, 138 Ill.2d 242
(1990) (age discrimination in employment). When a
discrimination claim is filed with the Director, the
Department investigates the claim to determine whether there
is substantial evidence to support it. See 775 ILCS 5/7-101
et seq. (West 2014). If the Director determines that
there is substantial evidence, the Director may file a
complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission
(Commission), which will then settle or adjudicate the claim.
See 775 ILCS 5/8-101 et seq. (West 2014). If,
however, the Director determines that there is no substantial
evidence, the claimant may petition the Commission to review
the Director's finding or may commence a civil action.
4 Under the prior version of the Act, a discrimination claim
was largely, and almost exclusively, a question of
administrative law for the Director and the Commission, not
the courts. The reason for this is that the Act was designed
to be a comprehensive and uniform scheme to redress
discrimination in this state without the need for litigation.
Consequently, prior to 2007, Illinois courts (and by
extension, federal courts applying Illinois law) did not
recognize a private cause of action for discrimination. See
Mein v. Masonite Corp., 109 Ill.2d 1, 7 (1985);
Williams v. Naylor, 147 Ill.App.3d 258, 264 (1986);
Yount v. Hesston Corp., 124 Ill.App.3d 943, 947-50
(1984); Walker v. Woodward Governor Co., 631 F.Supp.
91, 95 (N.D. Ill. 1986).
5 In 2007, however, the General Assembly overhauled the Act
to provide for the redress of discrimination claims in court,
after they have first been filed with the Director. See Pub.
Act 95- 243 (eff. Jan. 1, 2008). The case before us
implicates section 7A-102(D)(3) of the Act as amended (775
ILCS 5/7A-102(D)(3) (West 2014)). That section states:
"(3) If the Director determines that there is no
substantial evidence, the charge shall be dismissed by order
of the Director and the Director shall give the complainant
notice of his or her right to seek review of the dismissal
order before the Commission or commence a civil action in the
appropriate circuit court. If the complainant chooses to have
the Human Rights Commission review the dismissal order, he or
she shall file a request for review with the Commission
within 90 days after receipt of the Director's notice. If
the complainant chooses to file a request for review with the
Commission, he or she may not later commence a civil action
in a circuit court. If the complainant chooses to commence a
civil action in a circuit court, he or she must do so within
90 days after receipt of the Director's notice." 775
ILCS 5/7A-102(D)(3) (West 2014).
this statutory framework in mind, we return to the facts of
6 As noted, in December 2013, Metzler filed his complaint of
discrimination with the Director. On August 11, 2014, the
Director issued Metzler a notice informing him that the
Department found no substantial evidence that he had been
harassed, received a negative review, or suspended or
terminated based on his sex. The notice advised Metzler that
his complaint had been dismissed and that if he did not
accept this outcome and wished to proceed further,
"pursuant to Section 7A-102(D)" of the Act, he had
two options: he could, within 90 days, either (1) file a
request for review before the Commission or (2) commence a
civil action in the circuit court. Metzler took the first
option, and filed a request for review before the Commission.
On January 21, 2015, the Commission vacated the dismissal and
ordered the Director to further investigate Metzler's
claims. See 56 Ill. Adm. Code 5300.460 (1992); 56 Ill. Adm.
Code 5300.480 (1981).
7 On March 23, 2015, the Director issued Metzler a second
notice (substantively identical to the first one) stating
that his complaint had been dismissed again for lack of
substantial evidence. This time, too, Metzler sought review
before the Commission, and on June 26, 2015, the Commission
once again vacated the Director's dismissal and ordered
the Director to further investigate Metzler's claims.
Finally, on March 15, 2016, the Director issued Metzler a
third notice of dismissal (substantively identical to the
first two). This time, however, instead of seeking review
before the Commission, Metzler timely filed a civil complaint
against KSB in the circuit court.
8 KSB filed a motion to dismiss Metzler's complaint. See
735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(9) (West 2014) (permitting dismissals
where relief is barred by an affirmative matter). In its
motion, KSB relied on the single sentence in section
7A-102(D)(3) that states, "If the complainant chooses to
file a request for review with the Commission, he or she may
not later commence a civil action in a circuit court."
775 ILCS 5/7A-102(D)(3) (West 2014). According to KSB, since
Metzler had previously sought review before the Commission
from the first and second dismissals of his administrative e
complaint, he could not pursue any discrimination action,
following the Director's third dismissal, against KSB in
the circuit court. The circuit court accepted KSB's
interpretation of section 7A-102(D)(3) and granted the motion
9 Metzler appeals, and we reverse. We review the circuit
court's ruling on a motion to dismiss, as well as its
construction of the Act, de novo. See Lacey v.
Village of Palatine, 232 Ill.2d 349, 359 (2009). In
construing the Act, we consider its plain language.
Id. at 361. We also ...