Discrimination: Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
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Discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin by any employer with 15 or more employees, that is engaged in an industry affecting interstate commerce, is prohibited by "Title VII" of the United States Code, 42 U.S.C. §2000e. Title VII makes it "an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." Sexual Harassment is recognized as a separate form of sexual discrimination prohibited by Title VII.
Discrimination claims arising under Title VII, as with most discrimination claims, must first be filed "administratively," with the federal agency responsible for administration and enforcement of the Title VII - the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), before they can be litigated in court. Because the Title VII claim arises under federal law, a complaining party may file suit in federal court.
In most (if not all) states, the EEOC has a work sharing arrangement with the state agency responsible for enforcement of state discrimination laws. In Pennsylvania, anti-discrimination laws are administered and enforced by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"). Discrimination rights under both state and federal laws can be preserved by a single "dual filing" by the PHRC of all claims arising under both state and federal discrimination laws.
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The PHRC is then obligated to process the claim by convening an "intake interview;" drafting a complaint; conducting an investigation; and ultimately attempting to resolve the claim either by settlement, or by rendering a decision as to the viability of the claim. The complaining party must allow the PHRC one (1) year to investigate and/or resolve the claim, before the state law portion of the claim can be litigated in court. However, once the complaint is dual-filed with the EEOC, the complaining party need only wait 180 days before requesting that the EEOC issue a "Notice of Right to Sue," commonly referred to as a "Right-to-Sue Letter."
After the Notice of Right to Sue is issued, the complaining party will then have 90 days to file suit in court, on the federal law portion of his/her claim. After filing suit on the federal claim(s), the PHRC will normally end its processing of the state law claims, which may then be added to the federal lawsuit by amendment.
In court, the complaining party must prove that discrimination, and not a reason or reasons stated by the employer, was the true motive for an employment decision. In legal jargon, the complaining party must prove that the reasons articulated by the employer were a pretext, designed to disguise discrimination, which the complaining witness must ultimately prove was the true reason for the employment-related decision. Because these claims must almost always be proven by circumstantial evidence of an employer's intent or motive, they are among the most difficult in the law to prove.
For much more information regarding discrimination, the administrative complaint process, and the subject of discrimination generally, the EEOC and PHRC have very good web sites, at www.eeoc.gov; and at www.phrc.state.pa.us. To the extent these web sites do not answer your particular question about discrimination, you should contact my office at (717) 775-7195 for a free consultation, to review in detail your right to be free from discrimination.
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