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One Lawyer at Work defeats the State of Illinois in novel Housing Discrimination case

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

-- On September 2, 2020, a state court judge dismissed the Housing Discrimination lawsuit filed by the Illinois Attorney General against the Village of Fidelity. Attorney Scott Stewart prepared and argued the motion to dismiss on behalf of the Village. He persuaded the Judge with an argument on the 40-year old law that never had been heard by an Illinois court.

Local governments must take care not to discriminate against a person under the Equal Housing provisions of the Illinois Human Rights Act. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? Not so fast. The Illinois Department of Human Rights originally filed this case before the Illinois Human Rights Commission. In its complaint, the State alleged that the Village discriminated against a woman (because she is gay) when it enforced an ordinance requiring her to obtain an inspection and approval of a septic system on her property.

But Stewart removed the case from the Commission and transferred it to the circuit court in Jersey County -- the judicial circuit in which the Village sits. Then, he asked the Judge to dismiss the entire matter because the State could not make a case under the Illinois Human Rights Act. He argued that it was not engaged in a real estate transaction at the time of the alleged discrimination and, therefore, the Act did not apply.

The Attorney General urged the Judge to look to the Federal Fair Housing Act for guidance in interpreting the Illinois Act and to find that it is not necessary to allege (and ultimately prove) that the defendant in a Housing Discrimination case is engaged in a real estate transaction. Stewart argued that the Federal Act could not be used to interpret the State Act because the language in the two Acts is not the same -- essentially, the Federal Act applies to a broader range of conduct than the State Act does. The Judge agreed.

Getting the case out of the Commission and before a state circuit court was a key strategic component to the Village's defense. From there, it simply was a matter of persuading the judge to follow the law.

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