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Employees can’t sue under state’s ERA if other laws cover employer

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Employers covered by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) don’t have to worry about being sued separately under the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Recent case: Tonilynn Fay sued Muhlenberg College, alleging that her supervisor subjected her to a sexually hostile environment by making constant anti-female remarks. She complained to management, but it did nothing.

Fay’s lawsuit included federal Title VII and PHRA claims, plus an additional sex discrimination claim under the Pennsylvania ERA. Pennsylvania enacted the constitutional amendment in 1971 to prohibit sex-based discrimination.

The federal court considering Fay’s lawsuit dismissed the ERA part. It reasoned that the PHRA exclusively covers sex discrimination claims unless the law doesn’t apply to that employer. In this case, that meant Fay couldn’t bring an additional claim. Her lawsuit will continue on the Title VII and PHRA claims. (Fay v. Muhlenberg College, No. 07-4516, ED PA, 2008)

Final note: A case pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concerns a related issue. The court will soon decide whether Pennsylvania employers with fewer than four employees (who can’t be sued under the PHRA) can be sued under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

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