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Bills Take On Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation In Pennsylvania

By Samuel Cordes

No employee should have to face discrimination in the workplace based on factors that have nothing to do with job performance. A plethora of laws exist to protect workers from gender, racial, religious, disability status and even age discrimination.

But, did you know that in Pennsylvania there is no statewide law that specifically prohibits employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation?

Even though there is not a state law specifically protecting them, gay and lesbian employees may have legal tools derived from existing case law that can shield them against discrimination. What’s more, pending legislation at both the state and federal level could soon codify a new scheme of protection for employees who are discriminated against based on sexual orientation.

House Bill 300, ENDA seek to ban discrimination at the state and federal level

Pennsylvania is one of 34 states that lack a law protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some localities within Pennsylvania have enacted their own measures against sexual orientation discrimination, including Allegheny County, Erie County and Philadelphia County. In addition, Pennsylvania does prohibit state employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Still, for private employers in the majority of the state, there is no codified ban on sexual orientation discrimination at either the state or federal level.

Some lawmakers are working to change that. House Bill 300 was the last attempt at a complete ban on sexual orientation discrimination throughout Pennsylvania, but the measure stalled in committee in 2011, despite broad public support and the backing of all of Pennsylvania’s Fortune 500 companies. The bipartisan sponsors of House Bill 300 have promised to reintroduce the measure during the 2013 legislative session.

At the federal level, a law known as the Employee Non-Discrimination Act of 2013, or ENDA for short, has been reintroduced in the U.S. Senate. ENDA is modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of anti-discriminatory legislation. If passed, ENDA would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and it would be applicable to the majority of employers throughout the U.S., in both the public and private sectors.

While ENDA is backed by strong public support – in Pennsylvania, a recent poll from CivicScience found that almost 70 percent of state residents agreed that employees should not be terminated based on sexual orientation – it has faced strong opposition, particularly from certain religious groups. ENDA does contain a very broad exemption for religious organizations, but nonetheless, legislation similar or identical to ENDA has failed to make it through Congress a number of times over the past 20 years.

Contact an employment law attorney if you have been discriminated against

For gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals working in Pennsylvania, the passage of House Bill 300 and ENDA would be a significant step forward and would mean more comprehensive protections against discrimination. Even under current law, however, Pennsylvanians who are discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity may have legal options.

Under existing case law, safeguards against worker discrimination based on sex can be applied to many instances of discrimination rooted in gender identity or sexual orientation. Winning a legal claim through the application of this case law can be a challenge for workers who have been discriminated against based on sexual orientation, but with the right legal help, it is entirely possible. If you were discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, see an experienced Pennsylvania employment law attorney to discuss your legal options.