Wednesday, May 4, 2016

How Do Federal, State and Local Anti-Discrimination Laws Work Together to Protect Pennsylvania Workers?

Which Employment Discrimination Laws Are More Powerful or Important, Federal Statutes, State Laws or City Ordinances? 

Well, it depends upon what side of any given issue you fall!

The United States Constitution, the Congress and Supreme Court are the preeminent authorities where the rights of American citizens are concerned. In addition, states have a right to create their own laws, which may expand upon but not restrict any rights established by the federal government.   

Typically, and excluding those rights established by the Constitution, American civil rights originate with statutes enacted by Congress, and signed into law by the President. The Supreme Court thereafter declares such statutes as constitutional or unconstitutional and, assuming the former, the federal courts will over a period of years interpret congressional statutes, determining their scope and effect.

U.S. Supremes circa 2016
How Does Thomas Jefferson's "Federalism" Principle Impact on an Employee's Right to be Free From Discrimination at Work?

Federal laws establishing rights in any area then serve as a template for states, which are free to enact their own body of laws through a similar process (via state legislators, governors and state judicial system). This framework is a product of the genius of Thomas Jefferson, and is commonly referred to as "Federalism."

Thanks to Jefferson, Gay and Transgender Philadelphia
Employees are Protected From Workplace Discrimination
The key aspect to Federalism, at least insofar as this Post is concerned, is the principle that the federal government is the "ultimate sovereign," and its power in any given area may not be usurped by any state government. Hence, while state laws may provide more rights than provided for in their federal counterpart, they may not reduce the minimum protections found within such federal law.

In the area of employment discrimination, the federal government has enacted a number of statutes, the most important being the Civil Rights Act of 1964, known as Title VII. Title VII, as amended, makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees because of their race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age or disability.

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

Pennsylvania's Human Relations Act Does Not Make Employment Discrimination Based Upon Sexual Preference or Gender Identity Illegal

Nearly every state has since enacted a body of state laws patterned after Title VII.  In Pennsylvania, the operative law is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA"). 

Under the Federalism principle, the PHRA may protect employee classes in addition to those protected under Title VII, but may not eliminate protection for any class of employees protected thereunder.

Pennsylvania Discrimination Law Mirrors,
but Does Not Extend,
Protections Found in Title VII
However, the Pennsylvania legislature has added only a few additional protected classes - familial status, ancestry and handicap - to those identified int he federal scheme; like Title VII, its scope does not protect those discriminated because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Click Here to jump to Post discussing differences between Title VII and the PHRA, and the administrative processes required under both.  

However, the rights of American citizens are not limited to those established in the Constitution, federal or state laws.  That is so because cities, counties, towns, boroughs and townships may enact ordinances governing the behavior and rights of those that operate within their borders. Such ordinances may provide greater, but never lesser, rights than those provided for under state or federal laws governing the area in question.
Your Right to be Free From Discrimination May Vary
from State to State and City to City
Philadelphia Ordinance Makes Employment Discrimination Based Upon Being Gay or Transgender Unlawful

Pursuant to Philadelphia's Fair Practices Ordinance, discrimination by companies in the city because of one's sexual orientation has been illegal since 1982, and workplace discrimination because of gender identity has been unlawful since 2002.

Brotherly Love Welcomed
Hence, if one was to answer the question posed at the outset of this Post from the perspective of a gay, lesbian or transsexual employee working in Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia is the most powerful source of law where workplace discrimination is concerned. 

Click Here to jump to Post identifying 30 municipalities in Pennsylvania that have anti-discrimination laws or ordinances.  

However, if the U.S. Supreme Court decided tomorrow to declare Title VII and all similar anti-discrimination laws unconstitutional, or the U.S. Congress rescinded Title VII and its progeny, and enacted a law declaring as a matter of national law that no form of workplace discrimination would be unlawful in the future, the PHRA, the PFPO and all similar municipal ordinances would immediately cease to have any efficacy.  

Click Here to jump to comprehensive overview of history of LGBT laws throughout United States, and for update on current LGBT-related issues and cases.  

What Are the Statistics for Employment Discrimination in the Workplace Based Upon Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity?

The 2013 Report on Employment Discrimination Based Upon Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity by the Williams Institute provides some interesting statistics, and is otherwise informative and thought provoking.

                                                     Philadelphia Unemployment Lawyer

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…

Click Here to e-mail John directly.

Thanks for checking in with us.

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