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Employee Spotlight Sannaz Etemadi, Senior Counsel and Interim Chief, Bureau of Civil Rights

Sannaz Etemadi first joined IDOT in 2013 as assistant chief counsel. Today, she serves as senior counsel and interim chief of the Bureau of Civil Rights. A first-generation Iranian American whose parents immigrated in 1979, Etemadi grew up in Dixon.

Here are some of her thoughts about her job and life outside of IDOT.

What is your current job at IDOT?

Currently, I am leading the Bureau of Civil Rights. My focus is developing, implementing and monitoring IDOT’s programs for Equal Employment Opportunity, Affirmative Action, Americans with Disabilities Act and federal contract compliance.

What’s the most important impact of your work?

Our bureau is committed to eliminating and remedying unlawful discrimination in employment – it is our goal to ensure that employment opportunities and transportation programs, activities and services are provided in a non-discriminatory manner.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

Because of my unique background and upbringing, diversity, equity and inclusion, and civil rights law are very important to me. I am passionate about developing and implementing equal employment opportunity and affirmative action programs in accordance with state and federal law. Working collaboratively with the team in the bureau to achieve our goals has been very fulfilling.

Anything to highlight?

Some exciting work that the bureau is working on now is improving access to services for persons with limited English proficiency by examining the services we provide, identifying any need for services to individuals with limited English proficiency, and developing and implementing a system to provide those services so those individuals can have meaningful access to them.

What prepared you for your current role?

I received a political science degree from the University of Minnesota and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Dayton School of Law. Almost 10 years of experience as an assistant chief counsel prepared me to take on this new, challenging role at the department. I have been fortunate enough to have amazing mentors and colleagues in the Office of Chief Counsel that have taught me so much throughout the years. While I have been practicing law for almost 10 years, I am still learning new things every single day.

What do you do to contribute to your profession and community?

Prior to joining IDOT full time, I did immigration law and worked on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals cases, Violence Against Women Act cases, U nonimmigrant status (for victims of crimes in the U.S.) and asylum cases. I have taken on pro bono asylum cases at University of Illinois Chicago law school’s International Human Rights Clinic.

Over the last few months, I have been focused on the first women-led revolution happening in Iran – outside of work. I serve my Iranian American community in Chicago as pro bono counsel for a nonprofit called Chicago4Iran, which is a coalition of Iranian American residents of Chicago amplifying the voices of Iranians who are oppressed, jailed and killed for fighting for women, life and freedom in Iran.

What do you like to do outside the office?

Outside of the office, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a passion for traveling to unique destinations and fully immersing myself in the culture and local foods. My hobbies are playing tennis, soccer, paddle boarding, skiing and rock climbing.