Yesterday, the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee approved House Bill 300. HB 300 amends the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to extend protections to residents who are discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Currently, federal and state laws fail to protect Pennsylvanians against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Fourteen municipalities in PA have already enacted the provisions in HB 300: Allentown, Easton, Erie County, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lansdowne, New Hope, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Swarthmore, West Chester and York. In those parts of the state where these protections are not in place, however, it is legal to refuse a housing rental or much-needed job to a resident simply because the applicant is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Working women will also receive stronger protections against sexual harassment in the workplace with the passage of HB 300. Women sometimes experience harassment at work in the form of gender stereotyping, in which they are harassed and ill-treated because their coworkers believe they are not “feminine” enough or because they work in trades or professions usually thought of as “men’s work.” A woman who is harassed in this way can bring a sex discrimination lawsuit if her employer is aware of the harassment and takes no steps to stop it. However, if her harassers also taunt her for being a lesbian, she could lose her case, because some courts have dismissed gender stereotyping claims if they suspect the harassment is partly motivated by anti-gay prejudice. Passage of HB 300 will restore the full protection from gender-stereotyping sex discrimination that working women need and to which they are entitled.