By AARON GETTINGER
Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) appointed members to the Illinois Human Rights Commission this week, including Barbara Barreno-Paschall, a Hyde Park resident and a current senior staff attorney with Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights’ Housing Opportunity Project, where she works on housing discrimination cases.
Pending confirmation by the state Senate, Barreno-Paschall is scheduled to take office next month and will work out of Chicago. She said Pritzker sought recommendations from the legal community regarding Commission appointments, through which her name came up. So far, Barreno-Paschall is the only female commissioner-designate, though there is another vacancy.
Civil rights violations that the Commission considers relate to employment, real estate transactions, financial credit, public accommodations and education. “Members of the public can file these complaints, and they get up to the Commission through different ways,” she explained in an interview with the Herald. The seven commissioners then adjudicate the complaints.
“I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to serve the people of Illinois and fight discrimination,” she said. “Although Illinois has taken great strides in this area, there’s still a lot of work to do. And there are many protected classes … under the Illinois Human Rights Act in which people can file discrimination claims. And discrimination is not eradicated, so there’s a lot of work to do in order to protect individuals’ rights.”
She highlighted the Commission’s neutrality in resolving complaints and noted she will not be an advocate for any one party, though she is hopeful to be able to serve as a spokeswoman to the public about its work and the public’s rights and responsibilities under the Human Rights Act.
“A lot of people are aware there are federal laws protecting people from discrimination, but there are also state protections that are even stronger,” she said. In housing, for example, the federal Fair Housing Act has seven protected classes but there are more under state law: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, citizenship status (with regard to employment cases), ancestry, age (if over 40), order of protection status, marital status, familial status (with regard to housing), physical or mental disability, arrest record, military status, sexual orientation and unfavorable discharge from military service.
The state Human Rights Act covers employment, real estate transactions, housing, financial credit, public accommodations and education. Complainants file with the Department of Human Rights, and, if a case rises up, the Commission can award damages.
“It’s nice that this is available in Illinois, and I’m hopeful that people can become aware of it through my work, the work of the Commission and the Illinois Department of Human Rights,” Barreno-Paschall said. “I’ll be learning more about it myself.”
Barreno-Paschall — who formerly worked at the Sidley Austin law firm, where she received highest pro bono honors for representing asylum-seekers — attended Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before receiving her juris doctor from Vanderbilt Law School in Nashville, Tennessee, and a master’s degree from the Harris School of Public Policy.
“While you are required to have legal experience to practice in this role, I feel strongly that my education at the Harris School will help me be a more informed and effective public servant,” Barreno-Paschall said. She moved to Woodlawn in 2015 and Hyde Park in 2017.
Barreno-Paschall received the Hispanic National Bar Association’s 2019 Top Lawyers Under 40 Award and the Chicago Scholars’ 2018 35 Under 35 Young Leaders Making an Impact Award and currently serves as a community representative for the Kenwood Academy Local School Council, on which she hopes to be able to continue serving throughout her state governmental service.