Will local LGBTQ protections be collateral damage in bid to undo Philly paid sick leave?

The capitol building in Harrisburg

Pennsylvania's Capitol building in Harrisburg (WikiMedia Commons)

A bill in the Pennsylvania legislature that intends to reverse Philadelphia’s sick leave ordinance may also affect LGBTQ employment protections.

House Bill 861 would reverse all town or city labor laws put in place in 2015 or later.

State Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) said the bill in part is a result of Philadelphia’s 2015 paid sick leave ordinance. It would also effectively undo the city’s equal pay ordinance.

A possible byproduct is that this would also mean reversing anti-LGBTQ discrimination employment laws in 15 municipalities across the state, said John Dawe, the executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality PA.

Pennsylvania does not have any statewide protections for people based on sexual orientation.

“It is legal in Pennsylvania to be fired from your job or denied employment just because of your sexual orientation and gender identity or expression,” Dawe said.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Seth Grove maintains that the bill does not hinder LGBTQ employment protections.

“That is under the Human Relations Act. It’s a separate act that grants that authority so we don’t touch that,” Grove said.

The Human Relations Act does not explicitly mention sexual orientation.

These local ordinances were passed specifically to address the lack of state protections.

Grove also asserted that since the Obama administration, the federal government offers protections for gay people.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal under federal law in 2015 using the basis of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The EEOC interprets Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination to also include gender identity and sexual orientation.

“We’ve seen time and time again, the Trump Administration has rolled back guidance from Obama that opens up LGBT people to all kinds of discrimination,” Dawe said. “Putting a lot of weight in one administration is kind of shortsighted.”

Under the Trump Administration, the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions took the position that law actually does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation last July when inserting itself into a New York federal case.

Since then, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York ruled to uphold Obama’s interpretation of Title VII in February 2018.

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