The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act does not provide protection to people who do not live or work in Pennsylvania, a federal judge in Philadelphia ruled earlier this month.
In the case of Blackman v. Lincoln National, U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found the PHRA does not apply to plaintiff Kathy Blackman, who lived in Illinois and worked in the Illinois office of Lincoln National Corp. and Lincoln Financial Group, companies with headquarters in Radnor, Pa.
Blackman initiated proceedings against the two companies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over allegations of age and sex discrimination after she was demoted. When she was later fired, Blackman exhausted her administrative remedies and sued her former employers for discrimination and retaliation under Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the PHRA.
Surrick said the section of the PHRA relevant to Blackman’s suit was silent as to whether it applies to nonresidents not working in Pennsylvania. He then looked at other sections of the statute in which it stated the intent of the PHRA was to protect “the inhabitants of” and “the people of the commonwealth.”
“When we construe the whole statute … we are satisfied that the PHRA does not protect individuals like [Blackman] who neither reside nor work in Pennsylvania,” Surrick said.
Surrick noted the statute is not clear as to whether it meant to protect only those who live in Pennsylvania or those who also work in the state but live outside of the state. While he noted that he did not need to decide that issue for this case, given Blackman did not live or work in Pennsylvania, Surrick hinted in a footnote that leaving that question unanswered could create another dilemma.
Limiting the scope of the PHRA to only those who live in the state would leave New Jersey residents in a bind, Surrick said in the footnote. That is because the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination has been limited by the courts to only protect those who work in New Jersey. People who live in New Jersey but work in Pennsylvania, for example, would not be able to file a discrimination claim under either state’s statute if Pennsylvania were to deem the PHRA applicable only to Pennsylvania residents, Surrick said.
In terms of Blackman’s circumstances, Surrick said his conclusion is supported by the well-established presumption against the “extraterritorial” application of statutes. The judge cited a handful of cases, including the 2004 case Taylor v. Rodale out of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in which state anti-discrimination laws were deemed to only apply within that state.
“To overcome this presumption, the state statute must contain clear and explicit language stating that it has extraterritorial application,” Surrick said. “Since the PHRA is silent as to whether it applies to individuals that neither work nor reside in Pennsylvania, the presumption is that the PHRA does not have extraterritorial reach.”
In Taylor, the plaintiff was a Georgia resident who worked at Rodale’s Georgia facilities. He sued the company in Pennsylvania for violations of the ADEA and the PHRA. The plaintiff had argued the Pennsylvania law applied to him because the people who made the decision to fire him worked in the Pennsylvania office. The Taylor court dismissed the PHRA count, holding the relevant location is where the plaintiff worked, not where the decision-makers are located.
The court in Taylor determined that if the federal ADEA count was driven by where the plaintiff worked, the PHRA count should be as well.
Blackman said her case was different from Taylor in that, in the 2004 case, the court gave significant weight to the fact that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission determined it didn’t have jurisdiction over Taylor. The PHRC did not make the same finding in Blackman’s case, but rather simply deemed Blackman’s case closed administratively.
Neither the PHRC’s ruling in Taylor nor Blackman accept jurisdiction of the respective plaintiffs, Surrick noted.
Surrick further rejected Blackman’s argument that the PHRA should apply to her because Lincoln National was based in Pennsylvania. He said the Taylor court and others across the country have ruled the relevant location in terms of applying state anti-discrimination laws is where the employee worked, not where the company is headquartered.
“Our determination that the PHRA does not protect individuals that neither reside nor work in Pennsylvania is consistent with an overwhelming majority of state and federal courts that have addressed the jurisdictional reach of their state anti-discrimination laws,” Surrick said.
Surrick dismissed the PHRA count of Blackman’s complaint and further denied her the ability to amend her complaint to include that she worked in Pennsylvania once a quarter. Surrick said attending quarterly meetings in the state and having daily interactions with people in Pennsylvania is not enough to justify extending PHRA’s reach to nonresidents not working in the state.
Surrick said that issue did not come up in Taylor or any other case in Pennsylvania. But the judge said other jurisdictions have held that type of contact with a state is not sufficient to trigger application of anti-discrimination laws in the state.
Alexander Nemiroff of Jackson Lewis in Philadelphia represented Lincoln National and Lincoln Financial. He declined comment on pending litigation.
Stephen G. Console, Caren N. Gurmankin and Laura C. Mattiacci of Console Law Offices represented Blackman. Console did not return a call for comment.
(Copies of the 16-page opinion in Blackman v. Lincoln National, PICS No. 12-2338, are available from The Legal Intelligencer. Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information.) •