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Settling PHRC cases early makes financial sense

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

When facing a discrimination claim filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), it makes sense for employers to try to settle as early as possible, before the agency holds hearings and files an opinion.

If the settlement doesn't work out as the parties intended, you still have a chance to present your case in court. You aren't giving up any rights in order to settle.

Case in point: Christine Seliga worked as a waitress at the Blue Comet restaurant when she contracted hepatitis C. The restaurant fired her, saying it feared customers would eat elsewhere. Seliga filed a disability discrimination complaint with the PHRC.

Before taking evidence under oath, the PHRC urged both sides to settle the case and they agreed. The Blue Comet reinstated Seliga. But when she showed up for work, the manager sent her home because other waitresses refused to work with her. The PHRC reinstated the complaint.

At the hearing, the PHRC concluded that the Blue Comet had breached the agreement, so it ordered the restaurant to pay back wages. The owners appealed, and the court agreed that the PHRC went beyond its powers in ordering back pay. (Blue Comet Diner v. PHRC, No. 365 C.D. 2005, Commonwealth Court, 2006)

Final tip: If you back off a settlement agreement, the PHRC can't treat the case as merely a breach of contract. The agency has to start over and take evidence showing the employer actually breached the state's anti-discrimination laws. That's exactly what makes settling cases early so attractive: You lose nothing by doing so.  

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