Appealed From No. E-61335-A. State Agency Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
Before: Honorable Bernard L. McGINLEY, Judge, Honorable Dan Pellegrini, Judge, Honorable Charles P. Mirarchi, Jr., Senior Judge. Opinion BY Judge Pellegrini.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pellegrini
OPINION BY JUDGE PELLEGRINI
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Local 261 (Union) appeals from an order of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) awarding Joseph Ponas (Ponas) damages for age discrimination in violation of Section 5(c) of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (Act). *fn1
The Union operates for its members a non-exclusive hiring hall. *fn2 Ponas, who was born in 1921, alleged in his age discrimination complaint *fn3 to the PHRC that he went to the hiring hall on May 12, 1992, and told Mr. Schimelfenig (Business Agent), the Union's business agent, that he wanted work. On May 14, 1992, Ponas wrote to the Union's international office complaining that he had been out of work for two years because the Union would not call him for a job, and was told in response that he would not be put to work until other members running out of unemployment and health benefits were first placed in employment. Ponas asserted that this constituted discrimination on the basis of his age.
On February 9, 1993, the PHRC notified the Union that probable cause existed to credit Ponas' complaint, and the PHRC later notified the Union that a hearing on the matter would be held. In response, the Union filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that Ponas' complaint was barred by laches. Because of the lengthy delay between the time of the initial complaint and Ponas' death in 1994, before the hearing on the complaint, the Union contended it was prejudiced. That motion was denied.
At the hearing, the parties first stipulated that Ponas was offered and refused a referral on August 9, 1992. The Business Agent then testified that Ponas only asked him for "extra work" and that he wrote his name in the upper right hand corner of the paper on which he listed the members requesting work. The Business Agent testified that he normally kept the list of members requesting work on a piece of paper with their names listed in the order that they requested work, and that all members were given jobs on the basis of who had been out of work the longest, although he testified that he did not retain the list for the time period relevant to this matter.
Ponas also introduced into evidence a number of documents, including a letter dated August 6, 1992, that he received from the Union's international office in response to his complaint to the international office. Attached to that correspondence was a letter from the Business Agent to the Union's international office dated August 4, 1992, in which the Business Agent stated that Ponas would be put to work after the members whose unemployment and health insurance benefits were running out. This letter also mentioned that Ponas was receiving social security and an annuity.
In its defense, the Union offered the testimony of several Union members who testified that they were out of work before Ponas asked to be put to work and did not receive referrals until July, August and, in one case, September. The Union also presented the testimony of the manager of its Health and Welfare Fund, who testified that his records reflected that there were Union members who were out of work before Ponas who were still out of work at the time Ponas asked for a referral, and that those members did not return to work until July of 1992 or later.
The PHRC found that the referral system was not run on first-in first-out basis, and concluded that the Business Agent operated the hiring hall in an arbitrary manner. The PHRC concluded that Ponas was discriminated against on the basis of age in violation of Section 5(c) of the Act. That Conclusion was based on the Business Agent's admission that Ponas' name was not placed in sequence on the out-of-work list, as well as his letter to the international office of the Union that he was first trying to put to work those members that were running out of unemployment and health benefits, mentioning that Ponas was collecting an annuity and social security. Additionally, the PHRC found that the Business Agent had falsified some documents. *fn4 Based on the above, the PHRC determined that Ponas had been discriminated against on the basis of age. The PHRC calculated that there were 62 work days from May 12, 1992, the date that Ponas asserted he requested work and August 9, 1992, the date that the parties stipulated that Ponas was offered and refused work, and awarded benefits for each work day during that time period. This appeal followed. *fn5
The Union first contends that the PHRC erred in not dismissing Ponas' complaint on the basis of a defense of laches. The Union argues that the lapse of time between the filing of the complaint and the hearing was Ponas' fault, and that when Ponas died before the hearing, the Union was prejudiced.
The purpose of the doctrine of laches is to bar relief when the complaining party has not been diligent in instituting his or her action to the prejudice of another. Beaver Cemetery v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 107 Pa. Commw. 190, 528 A.2d 282 (Pa. Commw. 1987), petition for allowance of appeal denied, 518 Pa. 627, 541 A.2d 1138 (1988). "The party asserting laches must establish that it was prejudiced by a period of inordinate delay by the other party," Farrell Area School District v. Deiger, 88 Pa. Commw. 431, 490 A.2d 474, 477 (Pa. Commw. 1985), and where the delay is not due to the complainant but instead the PHRC, the doctrine of laches will not be applied. Pittsburgh Board of Education v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, ...