Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission Adopts Guidance Protecting LGBTQ People

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August 17, 2018
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Attorneys at Lambda Legal today commended the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission on its recent announcement of guidelines for interpreting sex discrimination prohibition in Pennsylvania statutes to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Aug 2, 2018, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission announced that it would be interpreting Pennsylvania’s prohibition on sex discrimination in employment, education, housing, and public accommodations to encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status through guidelines developed for the State’s response to discrimination complaints based on sex under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and the Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act. 

The guidelines state that the term “sex,” when used in the PHRA or PFEOA may refer to sex assigned at birth, sexual orientation, transgender identity, gender transition, gender identity and/or gender expression depending on the individual facts of the case. 

In addition, the prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sex, in all areas of jurisdiction where sex is a protected class contained in the PHRA and PFEOA, will now be interpreted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex assigned at birth, sexual orientation, transgender identity, gender transition, gender identity and gender expression.

Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan stated, “Lambda Legal is pleased to see the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission adopt guidance making clear that Pennsylvania’s prohibition on sex discrimination also protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status. All people in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania deserve to live free from discrimination whether they are at work, school or the coffee shop. The guidance adopted by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission represents a correct interpretation of the law and a step forward in eliminating discrimination against LGBTQ people in our society.”

The adoption of the new guidance by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission follows comments submitted by Lambda Legal in May, 2017 urging the Commission to adopt explicit guidance explaining that the sex discrimination prohibitions in the PHRA and the PFEOA prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, transgender status and sex stereotypes. The Commission’s guidance now explicitly states as much.

Lambda Legal Chief Strategy Officer and Legal Director Sharon McGowan added, “The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is not alone in correctly understanding that discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status are forms of sex discrimination. Through its guidance, the Commission in Pennsylvania now joins a chorus of its peers in federal and state courts and agencies across the country that have come to the same understanding. This includes the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the New York State Division of Human Rights, and a number of federal courts of appeals."

Lambda Legal’s formal comments, submitted in May 2017, included these important recommendations, the majority of which were incorporated into the final guidelines:

  • advocated for the proposed guidance to incorporate all of the rationales for why discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity are forms of sex discrimination;
  • recommended that it be modified to explicitly state that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission take and investigate sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, transgender status, and sex stereotyping claims filed by LGBTQ individuals as sex discrimination claims; and
  • pressed the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to promulgate and implement rules and regulations that explicitly define discrimination on the basis of sex, as the term “sex” is used in Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act and Fair Educational Opportunities Act, to include actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, transgender status, and failure to comply with sex stereotypes.

Click here for more information about the recent announcement and to read the final guidelines.