Pennsylvania Legislature Considers Expansion of Human Relations Act

The PA State House currently is considering legislation to expand the coverage of Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act.  The Act, originally adopted in 1955, prohibits certain types of discrimination that is based on a person’s race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age or national origin.

The new Bill, PA House Bill 300, would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the protected classes.  Currently, neither PA state law nor federal anti-discrimination law prohibit discrimination on these bases.  Just under half of the states, however, include some protection for sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

The new law defines the term “sexual orientation” as “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homesexuality or bisexuality.”  The term “gender identity or expression” is then defined as “actual or perceived gender identity, appearance, behavior, expression or physical characteristics whether or not associated with an individual’s assigned sex at birth.”

Just like the rest of protected classes already addressed by the law, this change would apply to discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.  It would not have any formal impact on other types of rights, such as the right to marry, etc.

The definitions are obviously rather broad, however, and could serve to expand significantly the scope of the Act.  Time will tell whether there will be support for the legislation, which was narrowly approved by the House State Government Committee and now is before the Appropriations Committee.  Stay tuned for more updates, as this bill moves its way through the General Assembly.

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