Appeal from the Order dated October 16, 1996 docketed October 17, 1996 in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil No. GD 96-06839.
Before: Cirillo, P.j.e, Johnson, J., and Cercone, P.j.e. Opinion BY Cirillo, P.j.e.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cirillo
OPINION BY CIRILLO, P.J.E.:
J. Daniel Hull appeals from an order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County sustaining Appellees' (the Partnership's) preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer and dismissing Hull's complaint. We affirm.
According to Hull's complaint, in 1981 he began working as an associate attorney for Rose, Schmidt, Hasley & DiSalle in the law firm's Washington, D.C. office. Rose, Schmidt, Hasley & DiSalle was, at that time, a general partnership. *fn1 In May of 1986, while still an associate, Hull voluntarily entered a 28-day rehabilitation program for treatment of alcohol abuse. Hull disclosed his alcoholism to certain partners prior to attending the rehabilitation program and has been sober since his treatment. In 1988, while located in the Washington D.C. office, Hull accepted the Partnership's invitation to become a partner. Shortly thereafter, Hull relocated to the firm's Pittsburgh office.
On February 27, 1992, two senior partners asked Hull to withdraw from the firm based on the fact that Hull had "no ties to Pittsburgh" and the partners "perceived real friction [between Hull and] other partners." Hull refused to withdraw. On March 23, 1992, the partnership voted to expel Hull from the firm. *fn2 Hull alleges he later discovered that other partners had made disparaging comments about his alcoholism, and had stated that he was not acceptable to the firm because he was a recovering alcoholic.
Hull filed a complaint against the Partnership seeking to recover "wage and income loss, compensatory and punitive damages," as well as equitable relief under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 P.S. § 951 et seq., for unlawful discrimination on the basis of a "disability." In response to Hull's complaint, the Partnership filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer. The basis for the Partnership's preliminary objections was that because Hull was a "partner" of the Partnership, he was an "employer" and not a covered "employee" under the PHRA. The PHRA provides only for an "employee" to bring an action against an "employer" who has engaged in unlawful discriminatory practices. It does not permit an "employer" to allege unlawful discriminatory practices. See 43 P.S. § 955 et seq. The trial court sustained the Partnership's preliminary objections and dismissed Hull's complaint with prejudice. This appeal followed. Hull raises the following issues for our consideration:
(1) Did the trial court err in sustaining defendants' preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer and dismissing the complaint with prejudice when sections 954 and 955 of the PHRA do not say with certainty whether a partner in a law firm is an "employee" with standing to sue under the PHRA?
(2) Did the trial court act in a manner that was erroneous, arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law by dismissing the complaint without at least directing the parties to conduct discovery upon the issue of whether plaintiff was in fact treated as an "employee" for purposes of sections 954 and 955 of the PHRA? *fn3
(3) Did the trial court's order deny plaintiff equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?
Our standard of review in an appeal from an order sustaining a preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer is well-settled.
Our scope of review is plenary[;] preliminary objections which result in the dismissal of the suit or the denial of the claim should be sustained only in cases which are clear and free from doubt. Further, the facts that are well-pleaded, material, and relevant will be considered as true, together with such reasonable inferences as may be drawn from such facts.
[Moreover,] preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer require the court to resolve the issues solely on the basis of the pleadings; no testimony or other evidence outside of the complaint may be considered to dispose of the legal issues presented by a demurrer. In order to sustain a demurrer, it is essential that the face of the complaint indicate that its claims may not be sustained and that the law ...