Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in case of Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. Stuart R. Feeser, Jr. and Avis Ann Feeser, Docket No. H-2119.
James H. Stewart, Jr., with him Ralph W. Boyles, Jr., and Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall, for appellants.
Sanford Kahn, General Counsel, for appellee.
President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by Judge Blatt.
[ 29 Pa. Commw. Page 438]
This is an appeal from a decision of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (Commission) which found that Stuart R. Feeser and his wife, Avis Ann Feeser (appellants), had committed unlawful discriminatory practices in violation of Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (Act), 43 P.S. § 955.
This case originated when Nelson Williams and Delores Williams, husband and wife, filed a complaint with the Commission on August 23, 1973, charging that
[ 29 Pa. Commw. Page 439]
Stuart Feeser had refused to sell them a particular house in South Hanover Township, Dauphin County, because of their race. After the Commission's investigation established probable cause to credit the allegations and its attempt to conciliate the dispute was unsuccessful, it then scheduled a public hearing. An amended complaint was served on the appellants on November 12, 1973, which added Avis Ann Feeser as a respondent, and two public hearings were subsequently held before a three member hearing panel of Commissioners. The panel heard testimony and oral argument, considered briefs filed by the parties and then reported to the Commission, which adopted the panel's recommendation that the appellants be found to have committed the discriminatory practices charged in the complaint. It also adopted the panel's proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law and final order, and it ordered the appellants to pay the sum of $5,500 to the complainants for the emotional distress suffered as a result of the appellants' unlawful conduct. The appellants were further ordered to implement an affirmative program of compliance with the Act. Their appeal to this Court*fn2 was followed by a further appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court*fn3 on procedural grounds, and the case has now been returned here by the Supreme Court for a decision on the merits.
The Administrative Agency Law*fn4 limits our scope of review here to a determination as to whether or not the findings of fact necessary for the Commission's adjudication were supported by substantial evidence,
[ 29 Pa. Commw. Page 440]
whether or not the adjudication was made in accordance with law, and whether or not the Commission abused its discretion either in reaching its decision or in directing appropriate relief. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. Thorp, Reed & Armstrong, 25 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 295, 361 A.2d 497 (1976).
The appellants argue initially that the efforts of the Commission to conciliate the dispute were defective under the provisions of Section 9 of the Act, 43 P.S. § 959, which set forth a three step procedure for handling complaints filed with the Commission. This procedure requires that: (1) the Commission investigate all complaints which are filed with it, and, should the investigation reveal that there is probable cause to credit the allegation of the complaint, the Commission must give the respondent an opportunity to respond to such allegations at a preliminary hearing; (2) if there is still reason to believe that the complaint is valid after this preliminary hearing, the Commission must attempt to conciliate the matter, and if the attempt to conciliate fails, the Commission must hold a public hearing on the charges; (3) if the ...