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Human Relations Act Expansion

October 8, 2018
Morgan Randle
Posted in: Labor & Employment

In August 2018, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) extended the definition of “sex” to include LGBT status for the purposes of discrimination. The PHRC guidance under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”) states as follows:

“The prohibitions contained in the PHRA and related case law against discrimination on the basis of sex, in all areas of jurisdiction where sex is a protected class, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex assigned at birth, sexual orientation, transgender identity, gender transition, gender identity, and gender expression.”

The new guidance means the PHRC will accept sex discrimination complaints from plaintiffs averring discrimination rooted in their LGBT status – a change to Pennsylvania legislature, which has contemplated and denied proposed laws protecting LGBT status.  Prior to the guidance, over 45 municipalities in Pennsylvania recognized LGBT status as a protected class, though the guidance expands the same state-wide for PHRA claims.

The same guidance carves exceptions for religious, fraternal, charitable, or sectarian corporations and/or associations under Pennsylvania’s Religious Freedom Protection Act.  The guidance further outlines the process by which companies falling within these exceptions can defend a PHRA claim based on the Religious Freedom Protection Act.

How can employers avoid litigation based on the new guidance under the PHRA?

  1. Train employees on the changes outlined in the guidance to help them prepare and adequately address any discrimination based on LGBT status.
  2. Update employment handbooks, EEO guidelines, and any other relevant policies to include LGBT status as a protected class, and ensure equality of the same.
  3. Confer with the Employment and Labor team prior to implementing new policies regarding LGBT status to determine the legality of the same.

The guidance in full can be accessed here.