What are the differences between Title VII and the PHRA?

Employment Discrimination lawsuits are initiated because of the protections provided under several different statutes. One of the most commonly used statutes in employment discrimination lawsuits is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). However, if you are filing an employment discrimination lawsuit in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”) will also apply in addition to Title VII.
At first glance, these two statutes seem very similar, which is why both of them are often used in a single discrimination lawsuit. However, it is important to note that each statute is completely independent of the other.

Why were Title VII and the PHRA created?

Title VII was created to enforce constitutional rights, to confer jurisdiction upon the District Courts to provide relief against discrimination in public accommodations and to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education. 42 U.S.C. §2000e, et seq.

The PHRA was enacted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania mainly because the denial of equal employment (because of discrimination) results in individuals not being utilized to their fullest potential, deprives individuals the ability to maintain decent standards of living and necessitates their resort to public relief, thereby resulting in grave injury to the public health and welfare. The Commonwealth created this statute as an exercise of police power for the “protection of the public welfare, prosperity, health and peace of the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” 42 P.S. §952(c).
What are the similarities?

The languages of Title VII and the PHRA are almost identical. In essence, both statutes prohibit discrimination against people on the basis of race, gender, color, religion or national origin. It ensures equal opportunity in employment for ALL persons.

What are the differences?

While the languages of Title VII and the PHRA are almost identical, it is important to note that the PHRA’s language includes certain types of discrimination that Title VII doesn’t.

To illustrate, Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. §2000e-2(a). The PHRA prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin or non-job related handicap or disability or the use of a guide or support animal because of the blindness, deafness or physical handicap of any individual or independent contractor.” 43 P.S. §955. The PHRA prohibits a wider range of discrimination. For example, if an individual was discriminated against because of their ancestry, the individual could argue discrimination under the PHRA but not Title VII. However, if an individual believes they were terminated because their employer found out they were born in Canada, he/she may be able to bring an employment discrimination lawsuit under Title VII and/or PHRA.

The main difference between Title VII and the PHRA is that Title VII is a federal statute while the PHRA is a state statute. This is an important distinction.

Title VII allows an individual to bring their employment discrimination lawsuit in federal court. A federal court, such as the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, has jurisdiction to hear cases of employment discrimination where Title VII is involved. If an individual brings an employment discrimination lawsuit only alleging discrimination under the PHRA, he/she is limited to filing their lawsuit in state court only, such as the Court of Common Pleas for Allegheny County.


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Don’t hesitate, talk to an employment attorney: (412) 626-5626 or lawyer@lawkm.com