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Pennsylvania Court Upholds PHRC Ruling in Favor of Employee Who Alleged Religious Discrimination and Retaliation After Complaining About Bible Quotes on Paychecks

In Brown Transport Corp. v. Com., Pennsylvania Human Relations Com’n, Brown petitioned the Court of Common Pleas to review an order of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) that granted relief to a former employee, Stephen Soffer, who asserted claims of religious discrimination, retaliation, harassment, and failure to accommodate. 578 A.2d 555, 559 (Pa. Comm. 1990). This religious discrimination included bible verses on Soffer’s paycheck and religious articles printed in the company newspaper. Soffer complained about the checks and the articles to management, but they refused to either remove the bible verse stamps on the checks or remove the religious content from the company newspaper.. At one point a manager at Brown told the Soffer that he should be grateful to be getting a paycheck at all. Id. at 556. After complaining multiple times Soffer was fired despite stellar performance reviews.  Id. at 559. The PHRC ultimately found in favor of Soffer, noting his impeccable record two months prior to his termination.  Id. at 561.

Brown petitioned the Court to overrule the PHRC based on the following: 1) the PHRC should not have permitted Soffer to add a claim under Section 5(d) of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 P.S. § 955(d), for retaliatory discharge; 2) that the PHRC’s findings of fact concerning Soffer’s allegations were unsupported by substantial evidence; 3) the PHRC erred in its application of law to the facts by concluding that Brown committed acts of retaliation and harassment against Soffer; and 4) Soffer was precluded by limitations in  in Section 959(f) of the PHRA, 43 P.S. § 959(f), from recovering any sums in the nature of either punitive or compensatory damages.

The Court ruled that Section 12(a) of the PHRA provides that provisions under the PHRA may be construed liberally, and the PHRC properly construed Soffer’s complaint to sufficiently allege discharge. Second, the Court found that Soffer provided sufficient evidence to support his allegations, and upheld the PHRC’s decision that Brown’s witnesses were non-credible as to why Soffer was fired. Third, the Court ruled that the PHRC’s findings were consistent with the evidence such that it did not err in its application of the law to the facts when ruling that Brown committed acts of retaliation and harassment against Soffer. Lastly, the Court relied on Consumer Motor Mart v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 529 A.2d 571 (Pa. Comm. 1987) to support the PHRC’s award of punitive and compensatory damages.

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