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ERIE HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION EX REL. SANFORD DUNSON v. ERIE INSURANCE EXCHANGE AND H. O. HIRT (11/26/75)

decided: November 26, 1975.

ERIE HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION EX REL. SANFORD DUNSON, APPELLEE,
v.
ERIE INSURANCE EXCHANGE AND H. O. HIRT, MANAGER, APPELLANTS



COUNSEL

William F. Illig, MacDonald, Illig, Jones & Britton, Erie, for appellants.

Lawrence L. Kinter, T. D. Colbridge, Erie, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Roberts, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Author: Eagen

[ 465 Pa. Page 242]

OPINION OF THE COURT

On June 10, 1971, H. O. Hirt, President and Manager of the Erie Insurance Exchange [Exchange], discharged Sanford Dunson, a black man, from his employment with the Exchange. On June 14, 1971, Dunson filed a formal complaint with the Erie Human Relations Commission [Commission] alleging unlawful racial discrimination in his discharge. Subsequently, on March 6, 1972, after two informal investigatory hearings revealed that probable cause did exist for crediting Dunson's allegations, a formal public hearing on the charge was held. On April 14, 1972, the Commission determined that the Exchange was guilty of unlawful racial discrimination in the discharge of Dunson. The Commission ordered the Exchange

[ 465 Pa. Page 243]

    to reinstate Dunson to the position he had formerly held and to recompense Dunson for back pay from the date of his discharge. The Exchange received notice of this adjudication on April 15, 1972. However, it failed to comply with the Commission's directives; nor did it appeal the Commission's findings.

Failing to obtain compliance with its order the Commission, on October 16, 1972, filed a complaint in equity with the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County seeking a mandatory injunction to compel compliance with its prior order. Annexed to the complaint was a copy of the Commission's findings and order. The Exchange then filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer on the grounds that the Commission, in its complaint, had failed to sufficiently allege unlawful racial discrimination and had failed to adequately identify the reason for Dunson's discharge. The court, after a review of the record, sustained the Exchange's preliminary objections and dismissed the complaint. The court found that the Commission had improperly concluded there was unlawful racial discrimination in Dunson's discharge.

On appeal the Commonwealth Court held that the failure of the Exchange to take an appeal from the Commission's adjudication and order of April 14, 1972, barred it from then contesting the merits of the Commission's adjudication. The Commonwealth Court, therefore, determined that it was improper for the Court of Common Pleas to pass upon the merits of the Commission's adjudication that unlawful racial discrimination had precipitated Dunson's discharge. The record was remanded to the court below so that the Exchange could present reasons for its noncompliance with the Commission's order. Exchange requested and we granted allocatur.

Initially, it must be noted that Erie Human Relations Ordinance No. 19-1963, which amended Official Ordinance No. 14-1954, makes no provision for appeals from adjudications of the Commission. The Ordinance

[ 465 Pa. Page 244]

    merely provides that "in the event any person refuses or fails to comply with any cease and desist order issued by the Commission, for a period of ten (10) days from the service of said order, by registered mail or personally, the Commission shall certify the case and the entire record of its proceedings to the City Solicitor who shall invoke the aid of an appropriate court to impose the ...


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