Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Marital Status" As A Protected Class Under the PA Human Relations Act? Maybe.

On January 26, 2011, Senate Bill 280 was introduced into the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PaHRA) to prohibit discrimination, including employment discrimination, on the basis of an individual's "marital status." The proposed bill defines "marital status" as referring to whether an individual is "single, married, divorced, separated or widowed."

If S.B. 280 is passed, all of the employment practices that the PaHRA currently prohibits with respect to race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, handicap or disability, would be extended to reach one's "marital status," as well. This would mean that an employer would be prohibited under the PaHRA from: (1) refusing to hire an individual because of his/her marital status; (2) firing an individual because of his/her marital status; (3) otherwise discriminating against an individual because of his/her marital status; (4) inquiring into an employee's, or prospective employee's, marital status; and (5) asking questions about an individual's marital status on any application for employment, just to name a few.

And, given the fact that the courts in Pennsylvania have traditionally employed identical analyses when interpreting the provisions of Title VII and the PaHRA, one wonders whether this proposed addition would also permit a claim for hostile work environment based upon one's marital status? So, as a "head's up" to any married men (or women) out there who work in an office full of bachelors (or bachelorettes) who are forced to listen to constant stories of wild singles parties, drunken weekend "conquests" and happy-hour strip-club campaigns, keep an eye on this legislative gem - you may actually find yourself being a member of a "protected class" before too long.

You can read the full version of S.B. 280 by going to the PA General Assembly website at by going to the PA General Assembly website at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/index.cfm