Saturday, April 30, 2016

What Are the Differences Between the Anti-Discrimation in Employment Laws Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act?

Title VII, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act Federal Anti-Discrimination Statutes are Provide Protection Against Discrimination Because of Race, Color, Sex, Age, National Origin, Religion and Disability

Jefferson's Vision Endures
In most general terms, Title VII, commonly referred to as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits unfavorable treatment in the in the workplace that exists or is undertaken because of an employee's race, color, sex, religious beliefs and practices or national origin.

Title VII was supplemented by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and was amended by the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1991 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

Hence, where federal laws are concerned, discrimination based upon race, color, sex ,age, disability, pregnancy, religious beliefs or national origin is unlawful.

Click Here to jump to Post outlining how to prove a discrimination claim.

Retaliation in Response to a Claim of Workplace Discrimination Under Federal Ant-Discrimination Laws is Illegal 

Illegal retaliation exists when an employer takes "adverse employment action" (i.e. a demotion, failure to promote, termination, etc.) against a worker who previously had complained about conduct that he/she felt violated Title VII and/or other federal employment laws.

Every State Has an Anti-Discrimination Statute - Pennsylvania's Human Relations Act Makes Workplace Discrimination Because of an Employee's Race, Color, Sex, National Origin, Religious Beliefs/Practices, Ancestry, Familial Status, Age, Handicap and Disability

PHRA Both Prohibits Discrimination and Retaliation Based Upon a Worker's
Age, Race, Color, Sex, Pregnancy, Familial Status, Religious Beliefs, National Origin or Disability. 
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA")is patterned after the federal ant-discrimination framework, and prohibits the very same forms of discrimination and retaliation as do the federal laws identified above.

However, PHRA's addition of familial status, ancestry and  handicap to the list of protected classes identified in like federal statutes means that it protects a broader class of persons than does its federal counterparts.  

Click Here to jump to post discussing interplay between federal, state and municipal anti-discrimination statutes, and sexual orientation and gender identity protection.  

All Claims of Illegal Employment Discrimination and Retaliation Must First Be Filed With the Appropriate Federal or State Administrative Agency So That the Employee Can "Exhaust All Administrative Remedies"

The government often seeks to limit the number of lawsuits filed in the court system.  One way this is accomplished is by requiring the complaining party to "exhaust administrative remedies" prior to filing such suits.

Where such exhaustions requirement exist, as they do where discrimination complaints are concerned, a failure to follow the proper procedures, i.e. "a failure to exhaust administrative remedies," is fatal to the claimant's rights to pursue discrimination claims in court.

An Employee Believing He/She has Been Subjected to Unlawful Discrimination or Retaliation Under Federal Laws Must File a Timely Charge With the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The EEOC investigates Charges of Discrimination and Retaliation alleged under federal laws.

Any person believing he/she has been subjected to discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, and wants to pursue a remedy under any federal law identified above, must file a "Charge of Discrimination" with the EEOC within 300 days of the alleged act(s) giving rise to the claim, or any right to pursue such claims with EEOC or in court will be lost forever.



The Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission Investigates Charges of Unlawful Employment Discrimination Filed Under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act

In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") investigates any Charge of Discrimination or Retaliation filed by an employee pursuant to the PHRA.

Investigate Complaints of Discrimination Pursuant to
the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
An Employee Believing He/She Has Been Subjected to Workplace Discrimination or Retaliation Made Illegal by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act Who Fails to File a Timely Charge With the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission Loses All Rights to Pursue Such Claims in Court

In order to preserve all of one's rights to prosecute a claim of discrimination or retaliation pursuant the  PHRA, a Complaint setting forth the facts supporting the claim must be filed with PHRC within 180 days of the first act complained upon.

A failure to meet that 180-day deadline is deemed "a failure to exhaust administrative remedies," and such failure means that the employee is foreclosed from ever pursuing the claim with PHRC or in court.  

Should I File My Charge or Complaint of Illegal Employment Discrimination With the EEOC or With the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission?  What Does it Mean to "Dual File" a Discrimination Complaint?  What Does the Term "First Filed" Mean Where Charges of Discrimination Are Concerned?

Individuals who meet the criteria for bringing a Charge of Discrimination under Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act have a choice between filing with the EEOC or the PHRA.  No matter your choice, if you indicate that you want the Charge/Complaint to be "dual filed," the administrative agency with whom you file will make sure that your claims are registered with its state/federal counterpart so as to preserve all of your rights under state/federal law.

Do EEOC and PHRC Handle Discrimination Complaints the Same Way or, if not, How Are They Different?

One key thing to know in such circumstances is that, if you "first file" with PHRC, you must wait at least a year before you can file a lawsuit while, if you first-file with EEOC, you may be able to file suit 6 months later.

Another important difference is that EEOC will often conduct voluntary "Mediations" or "Settlement Conferences," (if the employer is interested in doing so), while PHRC will often conduct mandatory "Fact-Finding Conferences."

In my experience, PHRA rarely holds settlement conferences, per se, and EEOC rarely conducts any sort of "fact-finding conference."

Key Differences Between Anti-Discrimination Statutes the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and Federal Laws Such as Title VII, the ADA and the ADEA

There are a number of important differences between Pennsylvania's Human Relations Act and its federal counterparts.  Here or some of the most important distinctions, at least in my view.

The PHRA Protects Employees of Smaller Companies - How Many Employees Must a Company Have to Be Liable Under Title VII or the PHRA?

Both Title VII and the PHRA make workplace discrimination based upon age, sex, race, color, religious beliefs, national origin or disability unlawful.  However, Title VII applies to only companies employing 15 or more persons, while PHRA governs employers with 4 or more workers.

So, a Pennsylvania employee who works for a company that that has 8 workers can sue for sex discrimination under PHRA, but not under Title VII.

Unlike Title VII, There are no Liability or Damage Caps
Under Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
Title VII Limits and Caps the Amount of Compensatory and Punitive Damages a Plaintiff Employee May Recover 

In addition, Title VII differs from PHRA in that it places substantial limitations on the amount of compensatory and punitive damages an employee can recover based upon the size of the discriminating employer, why PHRA has no such limitations.

Individual Managers and Supervisors May be Sued and Held Liable Under PHRA, but not Title VII

Another difference is that, under Title VII, an individual supervisory employee or manager may not be sued, while under PHRA there can be individual liability upon decisionmakers who engaged in discriminatory conduct.

Plaintiffs Suing Under Title VII May Recover Punitive Damages, but Plaintiffs Suing Under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act May Not

A person suing under Title VII may recover punitive damages, which are not available under PHRA.

Age Discrimination Claims - Double Damages Under Federal Law But Not Pennsylvania State Law

If you believe that you have a claim of age discrimination, it is important to realize that, while the ADEA permits the recovery of "double damages" (i.e. 2-times the amount of loss wages, etc. suffered by the plaintiff), the PHRA does not permit any such punitive damages.

An Individual Seeking to Sue in Court for a Violation of Pennsylvania's Human Relations Act Must Wait at Least One Year From the Date That His/her Administrative Charge of Discrimination Was Filed With Either EEOC or PHRC

Irrespective of what governmental agency the Charge or Complaint of Discrimination is filed with first, a person that wishes to file a lawsuit seeking recovery under the PHRA must wait at least one year from the date that his/her administrative claim was filed before filing suit.  Failure to do so is deemed a "failure to exhaust administrative remedies," which will lead to dismissal of the PHRA-based claims.

An Individual Suing for Discrimination Under Federal Law May Obtain a "Right to Sue:" Letter from EEOC Six Months After Filing an Administrative Charge

If a person "first files" with EEOC, he/she may seek a "Right to Sue" letter from EEOC 6-months after filing the Charge.  Such requests are frequently granted by EEOC, meaning you can sue in Court for relief under federal anti-discrimination statutes a full 6-months earlier than you can under their Pennsylvania counterpart, the PHRA.

It is important to realize that if you "first file" with the PHRC, it retains primary jurisdiction over your Charge, so you may not seek a "Right to Sue" from EEOC in such circumstances.

Federal Claims of Age Discrimination May be Filed in Court Sixty Days After the Filing of an Administrative Charge With EEOC

Where age discrimination claims are concerned, ADEA provides than one need wait only 60-days from the date of filing of the administrative charge before suing in federal court.  One does not need to obtain a "Right to Sue" letter from EEOC to file such a lawsuit.

PHRA's one-year waiting period remains even in cases of age discrimination, so starting a federal lawsuit under ADEA 60-days after you file your administrative claim will in essence result in the forfeiture of an age claim under PHRA.  


Balancing Pros and Cons of Filing Claims
Under Federal Versus State Law Challenging
A Person May Not "Split" Discrimination Claims in State and Federal Courts

A bedrock principle in our judicial system is that a person may only file one lawsuit arising out of any given set of facts. That means that you must at the outset decide if you are going to wait one year from the date of your Charge/Complaint with EEOC/PHRC before filing suit under state and federal law, versus filing suit sooner as permitted where federal discrimination claims are concerned, and thereby essentially abandoning any right to recover under PHRA.

In What Court, State or Federal, May I File My Discrimination Lawsuit Under Title VII or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act?

A plaintiff has an absolute right to file a suit in federal court when seeking relief under Title VII, and may include claims under PHRA in any such suit.  A plaintiff can file in state court under PHRA, and seek relief under Title VII - but a defendant in such a case would have an absolute right to "remove" such a lawsuit to the nearest federal court.

Pennsylvania's Human Relations Act (PHRA) in Most Respects Provides More Protection to Workers Subjected to Employment Discrimination Than Does Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act

Because PHRA applies to more companies than does its federal counterparts, permits suing individual actors and does not limit the amount of recovery, it is in those respects viewed as more protective than the federal scheme of statute after which it is modeled.

Click Here  to jump to our Post discussing PHRC's pilot Mediation Program.

However, a person seeking to pursue remedies under PHRA must wait at least one year from the date of his/her filing of the administrative charge with either PHRC or EEOC before having a right to pursue such claims in a court, which can prove challenging for individuals who remain unemployed.

Moreover, while a plaintiff who wants to sue in federal court can be assured the case will stay in such court if filed there, the same is not true if a suit filed in state court includes claims under federal statutes such as Title VII.

Finally, persons seeking to prosecute age discrimination claims benefit not only from the double damages provision under ADEA, but from the 60-day waiting period existing for such claims, as compared to the one-year wait period under PHRA.

As I am sure is apparent, the complicated web of choices suggests that seeking competent counsel is a good idea where discrimination lawsuits are concerned!



John A. Gallagher is an employment lawyer who represents employees in Pennsylvania.  

Click Here if you have questions about any aspect of employment law, from wrongful termination, to wage and overtime claims, to discrimination and retaliation laws, to Family and Medical Leave…

Click Here if you have questions about any aspect of Pennsylvania Unemployment Law, from willful misconduct, to voluntary quit, to Referee Hearings, to severance issues…

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