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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. FREEPORT AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT (07/06/76)

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: July 6, 1976.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION, APPELLANT,
v.
FREEPORT AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT

COUNSEL

Sanford Kahn, Pa. Human Relations Commission, Harrisburg, for appellant.

Harry K. McNamee, Marshall, McNamee, MacFarlane & Vierthaler, Butler, for appellee.

Jones, C. J. and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ.

Author: Roberts

[ 467 Pa. Page 524]

OPINION OF THE COURT

This case concerns the scope of relief which the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) may order when a respondent is shown to have engaged in a

[ 467 Pa. Page 525]

    discriminatory practice following a complaint filed with PHRC by an individual. The Freeport Area School District (Freeport) argues that PHRC may order affirmative relief only for the named complainant. PHRC claims that it may order such relief for all victims of a discriminatory practice.

On December 19, 1972, Linda Szul filed a complaint with PHRC*fn1 alleging that Freeport's maternity leave policy unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of sex.*fn2 The complaint was amended on January 11, 1973, for the sole purpose of alleging that the discriminatory maternity leave policy had injured other similarly situated female employees of Freeport. PHRC investigated the complaint and found that there was cause to believe it to be valid. Following the statutorily mandated attempt to conciliate the complaint,*fn3 a public hearing was begun on April 19, 1973. Complainant Szul and three other female employees of Freeport testified at the hearing. Following the hearing, PHRC issued findings of fact, conclusions of law and a final order directing Freeport, inter alia, both to abandon the discriminatory maternity leave policy and to pay Szul and the two similarly situated teachers who had testified at the hearing the prenatal pay and other benefits they would have received had they not been subject to the unlawful maternity leave policy.*fn4

[ 467 Pa. Page 526]

Freeport appealed the final order to the Commonwealth Court,*fn5 arguing, inter alia, that PHRC had no authority to order affirmative relief for any but named complainants. The Commonwealth Court agreed, stating that the only connection the additional victims of Freeport's discrimination had with the case "was as subpoenaed witnesses and recipients of the Commission's unauthorized largesse and all-protective care." It held that granting affirmative relief to victims of Freeport's discriminatory policy who were not specifically named in the complaint denied Freeport due process of law.*fn6

PHRC filed a petition for leave to appeal to this Court which we granted.*fn7 Freeport asks us to quash the appeal, contending that PHRC has no standing to appeal the Commonwealth Court's order. PHRC asks us to reverse that portion of the Commonwealth Court's order which held that PHRC may order affirmative relief only for named complainants. We deny Freeport's

[ 467 Pa. Page 527]

    motion to quash,*fn8 modify the order of the Commonwealth Court as PHRC requests, and affirm the order as modified.

We have recently discussed what the Legislature intended to be the scope of relief which PHRC may order. In Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. AltoReste Park Cemetery Association, 453 Pa. 124, 133-34, 306 A.2d 881, 887 (1973), we said:

"From the outset, we note that the Legislature, in an attempt to deal comprehensively with the basic and fundamental problem of discrimination, clothed the Human Relations Commission with authority to '. . . take such affirmative action including but not limited to . . . [several specific courses of action] as, in the judgment of the Commission, will effectuate the purposes of this act. . . .' Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, [Act of October 27, 1955, P.L. 744,] § 9, 43 P.S. § 959 (Supp.1973). (Emphasis added.) The words 'as in the judgment of the Commission' indicate to us that the Legislature recognized that only an administrative agency with broad remedial powers, exercising particular expertise, could cope effectively with the pervasive problem of unlawful discrimination. Accordingly, the Legislature vested in the Commission, quite properly, maximum flexibility

[ 467 Pa. Page 528]

    to remedy and hopefully eradicate the 'evils' of discrimination. Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, supra at § 2(a), 43 P.S. § 952(a) (Supp.1973). The legislative mandate that the provisions of the Act be 'construed liberally,' noted supra, serves to reinforce this view."

In this case there is no question concerning the remedy itself; rather the issue is raised whether PHRC may order affirmative relief for persons who were not specifically named in the original complaint. Freeport argues that, when the original complaint is filed by an individual, PHRC may order such relief only for the individual or individuals named in the complaint. A brief review of the statutorily mandated procedure for PHRC handling of complaints disposes of this contention.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act contemplates an invarying three step procedure for handling complaints, regardless of source. A complaint may be filed by an individual, by the Attorney General or initiated by PHRC itself. PHRC must investigate all complaints that are filed. If the investigation reveals that there is probable cause to credit the allegations of the complaint, PHRC must give the respondent an opportunity to respond to those allegations at a preliminary hearing. If, after this opportunity for response has been given, there is still reason to believe that the complaint is valid, PHRC must attempt to conciliate the dispute. If conciliation fails, PHRC must hold a public hearing on the charges. After the public hearing, if the complaint is sustained, the Commission issues findings of fact and a final order "requiring such respondent to cease and desist from such unlawful discriminatory practice and to take such affirmative action including but not limited to hiring, reinstatement or upgrading of employes, with or without backpay. . . ." Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Act of October 27, 1955, P.L. 744, § 9, as amended, 43 P.S. § 959 (Supp.1975).

[ 467 Pa. Page 529]

Thus it can be seen that the Act mandates that every complaint, regardless of source, must be investigated, if thought to be valid, must be the subject of an attempt by PHRC to conciliate the dispute, and, if conciliation fails, must be the subject of public hearings and formal findings and orders by the Commission. Once the complaint is filed the procedure is uniform. Nothing in the Act limits PHRC's power to investigate, conciliate or adjudicate depending upon the source of the complaint. Nothing in the Act limits the remedy which PHRC may order depending upon the source of the complaint.

Moreover, relief, when granted, is class relief. The respondent is ordered to cease and desist from the unlawful discriminatory practice with regard to all persons in the affected class. The act draws no distinction between the scope of "injunctive" relief and the scope of affirmative relief. Affirmative relief may be ordered "as, in the judgment of the Commission will effectuate the purpose of [the] act . . . ."*fn9

The Commonwealth Court found that Freeport was denied due process of law by PHRC's order granting backpay and other benefits to persons who were not specifically named in the complaint. Although PHRC, under the Act, has the power to order such relief, a failure to inform a respondent concerning the scope of investigation and possible relief might vitiate an otherwise lawful exercise of PHRC's authority. Cf. Commonwealth v. United States Steel Corp., 10 Pa. Commw. 408, 311 A.2d 170 (1973). In this case, however, Freeport had ample notice not only that the investigation was to go beyond its discrimination against the named complainant, but itself supplied the names of persons who had been affected by the policy which was alleged to be discriminatory. As

[ 467 Pa. Page 530]

Judge Rogers said in his concurring and dissenting opinion:

"[Freeport] objects that it had no notice of the inclusion in the case of employes other than [complainant] until their testimony at the hearing and that it was thus prejudiced in the presentation of its defense. Clearly, due process requires that employers have reasonable notice of the nature and extent of the charges against them, including in this kind of case, the identities of persons, not complainants, who may be included as objects of relief in the Commission's order. However, I learn from the record that the school district here received ample notice that others than [complainant] were involved by (a) her complaint so alleging, which averment it denied, and (b) the fact that the respondent was requested to and did supply to Commission investigators prior to hearing the names and other facts concerning the cases of [the two other persons who were awarded backpay by the Commission]."

We therefore hold that PHRC may order affirmative relief for persons other than the named complaint when (1) the complainant alleges that such other persons have been affected by the alleged discriminatory practice and (2) such other persons entitled to relief may be described with specificity.*fn10 The result we reach is in accord with federal practice. In Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 414 n. 8, 95 S.Ct. 2362, 2370 n. 8, 45 L.Ed.2d 280 (1975), the United States Supreme Court said:

"The petitioners also contend that no backpay can be awarded to those unnamed parties in the plaintiff class who have not themselves filed charges with the EEOC. We reject this contention. The courts of appeals that have confronted the issue are unanimous in

[ 467 Pa. Page 531]

    recognizing that backpay may be awarded on a class basis under Title VII without exhaustion of administrative procedures by the class members."

As a consequence, the order of the Commonwealth Court is modified to reinstate the Commission's award of backpay and other benefits to Harrison and Ippolito.

Order, as modified, affirmed.


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