By: Jessica Jackler
On August 19, 2022, the Second District Appellate Court of Illinois in M.U. v. Team Illinois Hockey Club, Inc., et al., 2022 IL App (2d) 210568, held that plaintiff could maintain a cause of action for discrimination against a private organization under the section of the Illinois Human Rights Act (the “Act”) which prohibits discrimination by a place of public accommodation because the private organization leases and operates a public ice arena.
Plaintiff, a high schooler who played hockey for Team Illinois Hockey Club (“Team Hockey”), was banished from her team after informing the coach that she struggled with mental health and suicidal thoughts. Team Hockey also prohibited any other players and families from contacting plaintiff while she was banned. Plaintiff sued Team Hockey and a related organization for disability discrimination under the Act alleging they denied or refused her the full and equal enjoyment of facilities, goods, and services of a public place of accommodation. The trial court dismissed the complaint based on its finding that Team Hockey, as a private organization, was not within the Act’s definition of a “place of public accommodation,” and its leasing of a public ice rink did not convert it into a place of public accommodation.
In reversing the trial court’s dismissal, the appellate court found that although Team Hockey as a private organization was not a place of public accommodation, it was not immune from liability under the Act. An athletic organization may nevertheless be subject to civil rights laws if it exercises sufficient control over a place of public accommodation by, for example, leasing or operating the venue where its public sporting events are held. As such, because Team Hockey barred plaintiff based on her disability from participating in Team Illinois events being held at a place of public accommodation it leased and operated, it was not immune from liability under the Act.
The appellate court further held that once plaintiff had earned her spot on the hockey team, defendant could not deny because of her mental disability the privilege of her participation at athletic events held at places of public accommodation.
Practice Pointer: The Act provides that it is a civil rights violation for any person based on unlawful discrimination to deny or refuse the full and equal enjoyment of the facilities, goods, and services of any public place of accommodation. While there are enumerated examples of what constitutes a place of public accommodation in the Act, this case demonstrates that liability can extend to Illinois entities beyond those which are defined in the Act, even private organizations based on their relationship to a place of public accommodation.