Both state and federal law make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, ancestry, and in some cases, disabilities. Erie County, Pennsylvania, also has regulations prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. These legal protections exist in employment situations, places of public service or accommodation such as stores, hotels and restaurants, and in housing both in respect to the sale of homes and the rental of apartments.
Not all forms of unjust or unfair treatment constitute illegal discrimination, however. In order to establish unlawful discrimination a person must be able to prove that he/she was treated differently than others because of race, color, age, sex, religion, national origin, ancestry or disabilities. For example, if an employer tolerates one form of misconduct by male employees but subjects female employees to discipline for the same thing, that could be an indication of unlawful employment discrimination. In 1992, many changes in the law made it easier to pursue such claims. There is a separate E-Law message, covering discrimination based on disabilities.
There are both state and federal agencies set up to investigate and, in certain cases, take legal action against parties which practice discrimination. The state government performs this task through the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission; their phone number is 412/565-5395. The federal government uses the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to do basically the same thing; their phone number is 412/644-3444 or 1-800-669-4000. If you feel you may be involved in a situation where there was unlawful discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations, you can contact either of these agencies and ask for assistance. There is no charge for this assistance.
There are strict time limits for filing complaints and if you do not comply with these time limits you may lose the ability to complain about discrimination. The time period for complaining to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is 180 days from the date of the act of discrimination. The time limit for the Federal EEOC is, in most cases, 300 days. There are complicated and important procedural rules about filing these claims which must be followed. If you feel you have a claim of this sort, you should contact either the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the EEOC or an attorney experienced in such matters as soon as you have this belief so that your complaint can be properly recorded as quickly as possible.
Ultimately, claims of discrimination must be resolved after proceedings which may involve a trial in court. A successful party can in some cases obtain compensation for any damages sustained and may, in certain cases, recover attorney's fees.
Discrimination claims are complicated and it is normally a good idea to discuss them with an attorney knowledgeable in this field in addition to contacting the state and federal government agencies. 3/11
If you need an attorney and don't have one, the Lawyer Referral and Information Service can help.