Thanks to a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, it is illegal for a Pennsylvania employer to fire someone for being gay or transgender. The Supreme Court ruled that civil rights laws governing employment discrimination include protections for workers in the LGBTQ+ community. This ruling had a significant impact in Pennsylvania, where workers previously did not have such protection.
The Supreme Court interpreted Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to extend employment protections to LGBTQ+ people. This law has always prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and sex. The court then determined that the definition of “sex” includes gender identity and sexual orientation.
LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians have been trying for decades to be protected against employment discrimination. More than 50 municipalities, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have had ordinances that protect LGBTQ+ people, but the result was a mishmash of laws, where a gay or transgender person could be fired in one city but not in another.
In addition, state employees are protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation because of an executive order by Gov. Milton J. Shapp in 1975. Another executive order in 2003 by Gov. Ed Rendell included protections for transgender state employees as well.
Pennsylvania’s nondiscrimination law, the Human Relations Act, does not specifically protect employees based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Like the federal law, it simply says that a person cannot be discriminated against based on sex.
Pennsylvania’s hodgepodge of LGBTQ protection laws no longer exists. With the Supreme Court’s most recent ruling, firing someone based on gender identity or sexual orientation violates civil rights law anywhere in Pennsylvania and across the nation.
With the Supreme Court’s ruling, companies, especially those who operate in multiple states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, must amend their policies to uniformly include protections for gender identity and sexual orientation. New Jersey’s nondiscrimination laws have included sexual orientation as a protected class since 1991, and gender identity since 2006.
What Should I Do if I Am Discriminated Against in Pennsylvania?
Employment discrimination occurs when a current or former employer takes an adverse action against you based on race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age (if over 40), disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
An adverse employment action could be:
- Not getting promoted.
- Pay or benefit reduction.
- Transfer to a new department or region.
- Decrease in responsibilities.
- Adverse performance reviews.
A Pennsylvania employee who believes their gender identity or sexual orientation is the reason for an adverse employment action must follow these steps to file a complaint:
You must first file a complaint of discrimination with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) within 180 days of the adverse employment action. If the agency you file with believes the other agency would better handle your complaint, it will cross-file your complaint with the other agency.
The agency that receives your complaint will assign an investigator to the claim. You and the employer will complete questionnaires. The investigator may follow up with phone calls or meetings for more information. The agency can mediate between you and your employer. If it cannot facilitate an agreement, it will decide whether to file a lawsuit in court against the employer on your behalf.
If the agency decides to file a legal claim on your behalf, it will file the lawsuit and work with you throughout the legal proceedings.
If the agency decides not to file a lawsuit against the employer on your behalf, the agency will send you a “right-to-sue” letter. This letter gives you the authority to file a federal or state court claim. If this letter is from the PHRC, you must file a claim in court within two years. If it is from the EEOC, you have 90 days from the date of the letter to file a claim in Court.
The Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Advocate for Workers Facing Discrimination
Any employee who feels they may have been discriminated against should contact the Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. We can review the facts of your case and counsel you on the best next steps. For an initial consultation about your case, contact us online or call us at 215-574-0600. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and New Jersey.