Philadelphia law defends an individual’s basic right to fair and equal treatment in employment. It protects workers from discrimination by employment agencies, labor unions, and former, current, or potential employers.
Examples of employment discrimination include:
- An employer firing or demoting someone based on age, pregnancy, or disability.
- A union refusing to arbitrate for minority union members.
- An employer paying non-U.S.-born workers less than U.S.-born workers with a comparable job.
- An employer refusing to make a reasonable accommodation for a worker with a disability.
If you believe that you’ve experienced employment discrimination, you can file a complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.
How to make a complaint
The law defines specific categories that are protected from employment discrimination. While discrimination based on other factors may be unfair or unethical, it’s not currently illegal.
You must submit your complaint to:
Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations
The Curtis Center
601 Walnut St., Suite 300 South
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Age discrimination occurs when the age of an individual determines whether or not they have access to certain terms, conditions, or services.
In employment, protections are limited to individuals age 40 and older. Persons under age 40 are not protected from age discrimination.
Age discrimination in employment may include discrimination among individuals in the protected group (that is, among individuals age 40 and over), or between individuals inside and outside the protected group (that is, between individuals above and below age 40). For example, a 55-year-old can allege a violation if they are replaced by a 48-year-old.
Ancestry refers to the nation, country, tribe, or other identifiable group of people from which a person descends. It also can refer to the physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics of the person’s ancestors.
Ancestry discrimination may often overlap with but is not always synonymous with national origin discrimination.
Color discrimination refers to discrimination based on shade or hue of skin, such as light-skinned or dark-skinned.
Color discrimination is not always synonymous with race discrimination, and can even occur within a single racial group. For example, a light-skinned Black worker could pursue a discrimination case based on the actions of their darker-skinned supervisor.
Disability refers to a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits an individual’s ability to perform a major life activity.
Major life activity is broadly defined to include basic tasks like walking, reading, bending, and communicating. It also includes major bodily functions, such as those of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.
The protections against disability discrimination cover:
- Individuals who have a disability. This is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
- Individuals who have a history of disability. This is a person who previously had a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
- Individuals who are regarded as having a disability. This is a person who is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, regardless of whether that belief is correct.
The protection against disability discrimination includes a duty to provide reasonable accommodations that would allow an individual with a physical or mental disability to access and obtain full enjoyment of employment.
These protections also include restrictions on conducting a pre-offer medical examination or making pre-offer inquiries as to whether an applicant is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of a disability and requirements that medical records be maintained separately and treated as confidential except under narrow circumstances, including informing a supervisor about a necessary restriction or accommodation.
Domestic or sexual violence victim status
Domestic or sexual violence refers to any act of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking as defined by the Philadelphia Code or the sections of the Pennsylvania Code related to:
- Sexual assault.
- Statutory sexual assault.
- Indecent assault.
- Aggravated indecent assault.
- Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.
- Sexual abuse or exploitation of children.
- Unlawful contact with a minor.
Ethnicity refers to membership in a particular cultural group. It is defined by shared cultural practices, including but not limited to holidays, food, language, and customs.
Ethnicity often overlaps with ancestry. It may also overlap with (but is not always synonymous with) national origin.
In employment, familial status discrimination refers to discrimination against an individual based on their responsibilities to care for or support a family member, regardless of the family member’s age.
The Fair Practices Ordinance defines family member to include an individual’s spouse, life partner, parents, grandparents, siblings, and in-laws. Family member also includes children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, including through adoption or other dependent or custodial relationship.
Gender identity refers both to an individual’s self-identification as male or female, as well as to others’ perception or interpretation of an individual’s gender as male or female. Gender identity discrimination includes discrimination against:
- An individual born male who may have a strong self-image and self-identification as a woman.
- An individual born female who may have a strong self-image and self-identification as a man.
- Someone born male who self-identifies as a man, but is seen by others as feminine.
- Someone born female who self-identifies as a woman, but is seen by others as masculine.
“Transgender” is an umbrella term that includes anyone whose gender identity does not match society’s expectations of how an individual who was assigned a particular sex at birth should behave in relation to their gender. The term includes, but is not limited to:
- Pre-operative, post-operative, and non-operative transsexuals who may or may not use hormones. These are individuals whose gender identity is perceived to conflict with the sex assigned to them at birth, and who may or may not begin or continue the process of hormone replacement therapy and/or gender confirmation surgery.
- Intersex individuals. These are individuals born with chromosomes, external genitalia, and/or an internal reproductive system that varies from what is considered “standard” for either males or females.
- Persons perceived to be androgynous. These are individuals whose gender identity is not completely male or female. This includes individuals who do not conform to expectations of a specific gender role and individuals who express both masculine and feminine qualities.
- Other gender variant, gender non-conforming, or gender different individuals. These are individuals exhibiting gender characteristics and identities that are perceived to be inconsistent with their sex assigned at birth.
Gender identity discrimination may also constitute sex discrimination based on the complainant’s failure to conform to sex stereotypes, based on the complainant’s change in sex, or based on the argument that gender identity is part of one’s sex both as a factual and legal matter.
Marital status refers to the state of being one of the following:
- Life partner, whose relationship has been verified and certified by the Commission
Marital status discrimination includes discrimination based on assumed characteristics of people in particular marital status groups.
Similar to ancestry, national origin refers to “the country where a person was born, or, more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came.” National origin discrimination includes discrimination based on place of origin or on the physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics of a national origin group.
Sometimes, national origin discrimination overlaps with race discrimination, and in such cases, the basis of discrimination can be categorized as both race and national origin. For example, discrimination against someone who is Native American may be race and/or national origin discrimination.
National origin discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of accent, manner of speaking, or language fluency. It also may include rules requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace or rules requiring multilingual employees to perform more work than unilingual colleagues without additional compensation.
Proof of citizenship requirements may be a form of national origin discrimination if they have a disparate impact on particular national origin groups.
Race discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of physical characteristics associated with a particular race, such as hair texture, facial features, and hair color. Race is associated with the following groups:
- White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe and the Middle East.
- Black/African American: A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.
- Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
- Asian: Persons having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent. (For example: Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Pakistan, or the Philippine Islands.)
- American Indian/Alaska Native: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment.
- Bi-racial or Multi-racial: All persons who identify with more than one of the above races.
Individuals of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, or any ethnicity, may belong to one or more racial group. Race may be related to color, but is not synonymous with color.
Religious discrimination refers to discrimination based on an individual’s religious observances, practices, or beliefs. It also includes discrimination based on moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views, regardless of how widespread the particular beliefs or practices are.
Among the established and organized faiths protected from religious discrimination are:
- 7th Day Adventist
- Protestant (including Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian)
While views that are part of a moral or ethical system are protected from religious discrimination, social or political views are not similarly protected. For example, a professor who describes their religion as a “creed requiring scrupulous honesty in the pursuit of scientific knowledge” is not protected from religious discrimination.
Religious discrimination may manifest itself as a preference for or against members of a particular religious group. It may also be evidenced as an intolerance for observation of religious laws regarding dress, dietary habits, and work schedules.
The protection against religious discrimination also includes a duty to provide reasonable accommodations for an individual’s religious practices. In employment, this may include leave to observe religious holidays, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship.
Retaliation for prior complaint of discrimination
Retaliation refers to any materially adverse action taken against someone who engages in conduct that the Fair Practices Ordinance (FPO) protects that is likely to dissuade a reasonable person from making or supporting a complaint of discrimination.
The type of conduct that the FPO protects generally falls into one of the following categories:
- Opposition: Opposing a practice made unlawful by the FPO.
- Participation: Filing a complaint, testifying, assisting, or participating in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing involving discrimination on a basis that the FPO protects. This includes testifying or presenting evidence as part of an internal investigation pertaining to an alleged EEO violation.
“Protected conduct” under the FPO includes all aspects of trying to oppose or remedy discrimination. Examples include:
- Filing a discrimination complaint.
- Threatening to file a complaint.
- Complaining about, opposing, or protesting perceived discrimination against yourself or another employee.
- Assisting someone else in opposing discrimination
- Giving evidence or testimony to an investigator.
- Refusing to engage in conduct that is believed to be unlawful.
- Refusing to assist an employer (by testimony or otherwise) in discriminating.
An individual is protected from retaliation for opposition to discrimination as long as they had a reasonable and good faith belief that they were opposing an unlawful discriminatory practice, and the manner of opposition was reasonable. An individual is protected against retaliation for participation in the discrimination complaint process, however, regardless of the validity or reasonableness of the original allegation of discrimination.
The protections against retaliation also prohibit discrimination against someone closely related to or associated with an individual who has engaged in protected activity. For instance, an employer may not retaliate against an employee whose spouse or friend has engaged in protected activity by firing the employee.
Sex encompasses both the biological differences between men and women and the cultural and social aspects associated with masculinity and femininity (i.e., gender).
Sex discrimination refers to discrimination based on one of the following categories:
- Pregnancy, child birth, or related medical conditions. In cases involving alleged discrimination based on pregnancy, child birth, or other related medical conditions, the relevant comparison group is other individuals similarly unable to work
- Sex stereotyping, or failing to conform to gender-based expectations or norms.
- Change in sex, or the fact that an individual intends to transition, has transitioned, or is in the process of transitioning from one gender to another.
Sex discrimination includes both:
- Sexual harassment, where the prohibited conduct is sexual in nature.
- Sex-based harassment that is not of a sexual nature, sometimes called gender-based harassment.
In certain instances, sexual orientation discrimination claims can be pursued as sex discrimination claims. This can occur under a sex stereotyping theory when the alleged conduct results from the complainant’s actual or perceived failure to conform to societal norms associated with his or her sex (i.e., sex stereotyping). In addition, gender identity discrimination claims may constitute sex discrimination when the alleged conduct is based on sex stereotyping or change in sex.
It is important to note that employment policies and procedures that apply only to one sex may be non-discriminatory if the policies and procedures are based on a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the job in question.
Sexual orientation refers to discrimination based on one of the following categories:
- Homosexual (gay or lesbian)
- Heterosexual (straight)
Sexual orientation discrimination includes discrimination based on perception of an individual’s sexual orientation, whether that perception is correct or not. Sexual orientation discrimination may also constitute sex discrimination based on sex stereotyping when the alleged conduct results from the complainant’s actual or perceived failure to conform to societal norms associated with their sex.