Nonresident, Out-of-State Workers Not Protected By PHRA

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Earlier this month, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that the protections of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA” or “Act”) do not extend to employees who neither live nor work in Pennsylvania. The PHRA is Pennsylvania’s comprehensive anti-discrimination law that promotes equal opportunity and prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, sex, age, religion, disability, and other protected traits.

In Blackman v. Lincoln National Corp. (pdf), plaintiff Kathy Blackman filed an employment discrimination case against her former employer alleging she was subject to discrimination on the basis of sex and age in violation of the PHRA. At the time of the alleged discriminatory act, Blackman lived in Illinois and worked in the Illinois office of a company headquartered in Pennsylvania. The judge dismissed Blackman’s PHRA claim after concluding that the PHRA does not apply to non-resident, out-of-state workers.

In reaching this conclusion, the judge noted that the sections of the PHRA addressing discrimination in employment are silent as to their application to nonresidents not working in Pennsylvania. Finding no guidance in these sections of the PHRA, the judge looked to the purpose and intent of the statute as a whole. Because the Act clearly provides that the intent of the PHRA is to protect “the inhabitants of” and “the people of the Commonwealth,” the court ruled that the PHRA does apply extraterritorially (i.e., outside of the state’s border).

In nonetheless attempting to come within the scope of the PHRA, Blackman argued that the statute applies because (i) her employer’s corporate headquarters and principal place of business are located in Pennsylvania, (ii) she worked in Pennsylvania on occasion and frequently communicated with Pennsylvania employees, and (iii) the decision to take adverse employment action against her was made by a Pennsylvania-based decision-maker. The judge rejected all of these arguments. Specifically, he noted that the relevant location for determining the application of the state anti-discrimination law is where the employee works, not the employer’s location or the location where the alleged discriminatory decision occurred. Furthermore, attending quarterly meetings in Pennsylvania and having daily interactions with employees located in Pennsylvania is not sufficient contact with the state to trigger application of the PHRA.

While Blackman forecloses extraterritorial application of the PHRA to nonresident, out-of-state workers, one important question remains outstanding: whether the Act protects only those who live in Pennsylvania or also those who work in the state but reside elsewhere. The Philadelphia-based judge declined to answer this question, but not before noting that limiting the scope of the PHRA to only those who live in the state could result in an unfair result to many New Jersey residents who come to the Commonwealth for work.