Following his recent controversial decision that scholarship football athletes at Northwestern University are employees who can unionize (previously reported here), Peter Sung Ohr, the Regional Director for Region 13 of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) in Chicago, has entered into agreements with the Illinois Department of Labor and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations that provide for collaboration and information sharing during investigations.

On April 18, 2014, Mr. Ohr and Mona Noriega, Chairman and Commissioner of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations (the Commission), entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Regional Director Ohr and Joseph Costigan, the Director of the Illinois Department of Labor, signed a similar MOU in March.

“[I]f the Commission is investigating an employment discrimination charge, and thinks the employee may have been terminated for engaging in protected concerted activity, it may refer the case to the Board.”

According to the Board’s Office of Public Affairs, “[e]ach MOU provides that, during interviewing or case processing, if one agency determines that the alleged conduct falls within the jurisdiction of the other agency, the former agency will, with the individual’s consent, refer the charge to that other agency.” The MOUs also provide for “cross-training” between agencies and for procedures related to sharing information between agencies where appropriate.

The MOUs will potentially expose employers to further scrutiny by these regulatory agencies in Illinois. Under the MOUs, when any one of these agencies is processing a case and discovers information that may show a violation of the laws enforced by either of the other agencies, they may share information with, and refer the matter to, the other agency. In other words, if the Commission is investigating an employment discrimination charge, and thinks the employee may have been terminated for engaging in protected concerted activity, it may refer the case to the Board.

Last year, the Department of Justice (Civil Division) and the NLRB entered into a similar MOU. It is likely that other Regional Offices of the NLRB will enter into similar agreements with state and local regulatory agencies.