LIMITING THE REACH OF THE PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN RELATIONS ACT

At what point does the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”) become inapplicable with regard to the employees of Pennsylvania companies that meet the requirement of employing four or more persons within the Commonwealth?  In Blackman v. Lincoln Nat’l Corp., the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania answered precisely such a question. 

Faced with a motion to dismiss discrimination claims and a retaliatory discharge claim brought under the PHRA by the former employee of an Indiana corporation that maintains its principal place of business in Pennsylvania, the district court in Blackman focused on the fact that the plaintiff was an Illinois resident who worked in the defendant’s Illinois office.  Ultimately, the court concluded that the PHRA does not afford protection to individuals who neither reside nor work in Pennsylvania.  Interestingly, as the court observed, even if the plaintiff had alleged that she attended quarterly meetings in Pennsylvania, that she interacted daily with the company’s Pennsylvania employees, and that the adverse decisions regarding her employment were made in Pennsylvania, such allegations would not have saved her PHRA claims.    

Although the PHRA claims in Blackman were dismissed, it should be noted that the plaintiff proceeded with her Title VII claims; moreover, the district court in Blackman did not opine about whether the plaintiff could have brought a viable claim under the Illinois anti-discrimination statute.  Rather, the Blackman opinion simply reinforces that the PHRA is limited in its application, even with regard to Pennsylvania employers that have at least four employees within the Commonwealth.  More specifically, the Blackman opinion reinforces that the PHRA does not cover nonresident employees who work outside of Pennsylvania. 

As companies expand their workforces, particularly within the energy industry, the Blackman opinion provides guidance regarding the reach of Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination statute.  To that end, the Blackman opinion is certainly noteworthy.  However, as alluded to above, even in instances when the PHRA is not applicable because the employee at issue neither resides nor works in Pennsylvania, such an employee (depending upon, among other things, the number of individuals employed by his or her employer) may have a claim against his or her employer under the federal anti-discrimination statute (i.e., Title VII) or the anti-discrimination statute of the state in which he or she actually works.  To that end, Pennsylvania employers that have employees who are not afforded the protections of the PHRA must still be mindful of any potential for a discrimination claim based upon an adverse employment action.     

Matt Hansberry focuses his practice in the areas of employment litigation and ski-industry defense. Mr. Hansberry has defended companies and management in both federal court and state court cases. He has also defended employers before the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.
 
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