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Lawmaker warns bill on Pritzker’s desk could increase frivolous discrimination suits

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(The Center Square) – Amid a Moody’s report describing Illinois as a below average performer in job and income growth, the governor is set to sign legislation opponents say will open business owners up to frivolous lawsuits.

House Bill 2161 is now on the governor’s desk. The bill seeks to prevent discrimination by an employer based on an employee’s family responsibilities.

During debate on the House floor last month, state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, gave a real life example of the type of discrimination the bill aims to prevent.

“A woman who applied for a promotion at work and her boss asked, ‘you have kids at home right?’ She said, ‘I have four kids,’ and the boss said, ‘you’re a stellar employee but it sounds like you got a lot on your plate at home. So we’re going to give the promotion to someone else,’” said Guzzardi. “In that instance they gave the promotion to a man who also had kids and she had a gender discrimination claim, but had the employer given a job to a woman with no kids, that would have been perfectly legal. That kind of discrimination isn’t currently prohibited under the Human Rights Act.”

State Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, said there are already laws on the books against discrimination in the workplace, but what this bill does is open up employers to frivolous lawsuits.

“We all believe caring for family is important, but this bill is another expansion of basically the ability to file lawsuits,” said Ugaste. “And it’s not even being brought by our trial lawyers, it’s some national association, who is now giving ideas on what lawsuits they need to be able to file in the state of Illinois. Every business group is opposed to this and it’s not because it’s going to reduce claims or lawsuits. It’s going to increase them. That’s a problem for businesses and makes it harder for Illinois to attract businesses.”

Ugaste pointed to a 2024 Moody’s report that describes the Illinois economy as a below average performer in jobs and income growth. Ugaste urged a ‘no’ vote for HB2161 on the House floor. He said the legislature needs to think about the Moody’s report before voting on such legislation.

“If people were suffering discrimination on a routine basis, we’d all be hearing about it. I just got done taking my grandchild to school because her mom wasn’t able to. People work with people, we’re humans and there’s no need for a bill like this. This is something for lawyers to make money on. The purpose of this bill isn’t to tell businesses not to come here but that’s the end result,” said Ugaste.

Guzzardi, the bill’s sponsor, said the measure simply closes a loophole in the state’s discrimination protections and mentioned other states that have passed similar legislation are seeing the number of lawsuits filed go down.

“And the reason researchers believe that’s true is that right now there’s kind of a gray area. Employers don’t know how they’re supposed to act and employees don’t know what their rights are,” said Guzzardi. “Once you define the rules of the road, everyone knows how to act and those discrimination suits go down.”

Guzzardi called the bill good for working folks, who are caring for children, parents and sick family members.

The measure awaits further action from Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

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