Will state antibias agency enact LGBT-friendly guidance?

Will state antibias agency enact LGBT-friendly guidance?

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Almost a year after the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission requested public feedback on proposed LGBT-friendly agency guidance, the matter remains under consideration. The guidance would facilitate PHRC investigations of LGBT antibias complaints, despite the lack of explicit LGBT protections in state or federal antibias laws.

These laws explicitly ban sex discrimination. The proposed guidance clarifies that PHRC could investigate an LGBT-discrimination complaint as a sex-discrimination complaint. The agency currently investigates sex-discrimination complaints in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, commercial property and education. It has 75 staffers and an annual budget of about $10,197,000. 

Thousands of Pennsylvanians sent feedback to PHRC, with many of the comments opposing the proposed guidance in its current format.

A PHRC spokesperson said the public will be notified when the proposed guidance is scheduled for public discussion. The  agency’s next public meeting will be held 1 p.m. Feb. 26 in Harrisburg. As of presstime, the proposed LGBT guidance wasn’t on the agenda.

Justin F. Robinette, a local civil-rights attorney, urged prompt action by PHRC to help eradicate LGBT discrimination across the state.

“All we’re asking for is a clear statement from PHRC that all LGBT discrimination is sex discrimination,” Robinette told PGN. “LGBT people who file complaints with PHRC should never have a complaint of LGBT discrimination dismissed on the basis that the LGBT discrimination doesn’t constitute sex discrimination. That would be completely unacceptable and inconsistent with the trend of recent court rulings saying that all forms of LGBT bias constitute sex bias. LGBT people pay taxes and have a right to expect services from this agency. PHRC must make it clear that LGBT complaints are welcome at the agency, and at a minimum, their website and complaint forms should reflect that position. This should happen expediently, as justice delayed is justice denied.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is urging victims of LGBT discrimination to file complaints with PHRC, despite the lack of clear agency guidance. “Folks are experiencing discrimination in Pennsylvania today and we want to make sure they are pursuing the remedies available to them, including filing complaints at PHRC,” said Julie Zaebst, senior policy advocate at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Zaebst said the chapter plans to embark on an educational effort soon.

“We want to make sure the public knows these are important claims that they should be bringing to PHRC. We’re going to be doing some public education across the state to clarify the state of the current law and to invite folks to contact us if they are LGBTQ and have experienced discrimination.”

Zaebst also emphasized the desirability of a statewide antibias law containing specific LGBT protections.

“At the same time, it remains crucial that we get nondiscrimination in Pennsylvania’s [antibias] statute to make crystal clear what the law is and to protect LGBTQ Pennsylvanians moving forward. So we will continue to fight for the state law as well. Both [case law and state law] are important.”

Zaebst was asked if the ACLU is concerned about the quality of an investigation that would be given to an LGBT complaint at PHRC.

“At this point, we don’t have any concerns about the quality of investigation this type of complaint would receive,” Zaebst replied. “We do welcome folks who have filed a complaint or are considering filing a complaint [with PHRC] about LGBTQ discrimination to contact us for more information and support. They can do so online at www.aclupa.org/complaint.”

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