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Ten Tips for Employers Who Face Going to an Illinois Department of Human Rights Fact Finding Conference

October 2011

By: Nancy E. Joerg, Esq.

As companies who have been the recipient of an Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) Charge of Discrimination will know, part of the process is for the company to attend an IDHR Fact Finding Conference, usually held at the Thompson Center in Chicago on the 10 th Floor where the IDHR offices are located.

Even in the flimsiest of cases, companies are asked to attend the Fact Finding Conference as it is a standard part of the process, with very rare exceptions. When a company receives a Charge of Discrimination from the IDHR, the company is first required by law to send in a Verified Response within 60 days of receipt of the Charge. The Verified Response is a brief document where the company basically "admits" or "denies" each allegation.

Next, the company must send in a Letter of Position and answer a lengthy Questionnaire.

Finally, the Fact Finding Conference is scheduled by the IDHR Investigator and the company must attend in person. Many clients ask me what they can expect at a Fact Finding Conference, and so my hope is that these 10 key tips will help many companies facing an IDHR Fact Finding Conference :

  • Always attend as required. Do not be late. Allow for heavy traffic in Chicago. If the company does not attend the Fact Finding Conference, the IDHR Investigator may default the company.
  • Prepare for the Fact Finding Conference by reviewing the facts, details and arguments you have given the IDHR so that you will faithful to the facts and not vary them. Companies and their witnesses should have a prep session prior to the Fact Finding Conference-to read over all the documentation submitted to the Investigator. Companies who vary their facts (or seem unsure of them) appear to be less reliable. Be consistent.
  • Suggest to the IDHR Investigator that certain key witnesses would be helpful at the Fact Finding Conference. Only bring witnesses who are eyewitnesses to the facts (or have firsthand knowledge of the facts) you wish to emphasize at the Fact Finding Conference.
  • Have your attorney (who is assisting you with the IDHR Charge) attend the Fact Finding Conference with you. The attorney does not participate but will be able to listen to all statements made during the Fact Finding Conference (from both the company and the Charging Party) and this witness information will be extremely valuable. Think of it as a form of "discovery."
  • Be aware that there is a strict security system at the Thompson Center. You should arrive at least one-half hour before the start of the Fact Finding Conference so you have time to comfortably go through security and get up to the 10 th Floor by the scheduled time.
  • If you feel you are open to settlement of the Charge, have the company representative who has authority to authorize settlement attend the Fact Finding Conference. If that individual cannot attend the Fact Finding Conference, have him/her available by phone.
  • Take notes at the Fact Finding Conference of all statements made. That way, as the case continues beyond the Fact Finding Conference, you will recall key facts and issues raised at the Fact Finding Conference. There are no court reporters or tape recordings of the Fact Finding Conference so there will be no transcript available of what occurs during the Fact Finding Conference. This is why it is important to take notes.
  • You can have your own notes and submissions in front of you during the Fact Finding Conference, so it is an excellent idea to bring your Verified Response, a copy of the Charge, your Letter of Position, and your Responses to the Questionnaire, and any other documents you may need to be accurate and fully responsive during the Fact Finding Conference.
  • The IDHR Investigator will not make a decision at the end of the Fact Finding Conference. You will leave the Fact Finding Conference not knowing what the decision on the case will be.
  • The Investigator often asks for additional information to be sent as a result of what the Investigator heard during the Fact Finding Conference. Be fully responsive because you want to get all of the facts in front of the Investigator.

Questions? Call Attorney Nancy E. Joerg of Wessels Sherman's St. Charles, Illinois office: 630-377-1554 or email her at najoerg@wesselssherman.com.