Pennsylvania Anti-Discrimination Laws: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

By Sydney Normil (Summer Associate)

Currently, federal and state (Pennsylvania) anti-discrimination laws protect against discrimination on the basis of sex (male vs. female), but not sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.  However, a number of Pennsylvania municipalities have enacted ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression.  The list of municipalities is always changing, and the protection offered by each municipality varies.  For example, one municipality may protect against transgender identity discrimination while another municipality may protect only against sexual orientation discrimination.  It is necessary to consult with the individual municipality to determine which protections are available.

Filing a Complaint

An aggrieved individual can file a “complaint” with its municipality for discriminatory acts performed against them in employment, housing or public accommodation matters occurring within the borough or city limits. A complaint is a form that requests general information of both the person filing and of the accused employer and a summary of the alleged discriminatory acts. Each municipality may maintain a different form and course of procedure for investigating such complaints. For example, the complaint form may need to be printed and mailed or hand delivered, or the complaint form may be submitted online. This list contains the names of the municipalities and their respective commissions, and hyperlinks to the municipalities’ websites, complaint forms or guides to filing a complaint, if available. (Last updated July 2014)


Abington Township – Abington Township Human Relations Commission – The complaint form can be found here.

Allegheny CountyAllegheny County Human Relations Commission – The complaint form can be found here.

City of AllentownHuman Relations Commission of the City of Allentown – The complaint form can be found here.

City of Bethlehem – Bethlehem Human Relations Commission

Bristol BoroughBristol Borough Human Relations Commission

Bucks CountyBucks County Human Relations Council

Cheltenham TownshipCheltenham Township Human Relations Commission – The complaint form can be found here.

Borough of ConshohockenBorough of Conshohocken Human Relations Commission

Borough of Dowington – Dowington Human Relations Commission

Borough of DoylestownDoylestown Human Relations Commission – The complaint form can be found here.

City of Easton – Easton Human Relations Commission

East Norriton TownshipEast Norriton Township Human Relations Commission

Erie CountyErie County Human Relations Commission – The guide to filing a complaint can be found here.

City of FarrellCity of Farrell Human Relations Commission

City of Harrisburg– Harrisburg Human Relations Commission

Haverford Township – Haverford Human Relations Commission

City of LancasterLancaster City Human Relations Commission – The complaint form can be found here.

Lansdowne Borough –  Lansdowne Human Relations Commission

Lower Merion TownshipLower Merion Township Human Relations Commission – The complaint form can be found here.

Jenkintown BoroughJenkintown Borough Human Relations Commission

Borough of NewtonNewtown Human Relations Commission

Borough of New HopeNew Hope Human Rights Commission

City of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia Commission on Human Relations – The complaint form can be found here.

City of PittsburghPittsburgh Commission on Human Relations – The complaint form can be found here.

City of PittstonPittston Human Relations Commission

City of ReadingReading Human Relations Commission

City of ScrantonHuman Relations Commission of the City of Scranton

Springfield Township – Springfield Township Human Relations Commission

State College BoroughState College Borough Human Relations Commission – The guide to filing a complaint can be found here. The complaint form can be found here.

Susquehanna TownshipSusquehanna Township Human Relations Commission

Swarthmore Borough Swarthmore Human Relations Commission – The guide to filing a complaint can be found here.

Upper Merion TownshipUpper Merion Township Human Relations Commission – The guide to filing a complaint can be found here.

Borough of West Chester –West Chester Human Relations Commission

Whitemarsh TownshipWhitemarsh Township Human Relations Commission

City of YorkCity of York Human Relations Commission

Marriage Equality List

There is much confusion about which states have what types of same-sex relationship laws.  We’ve compiled the list below to make it a bit easier to understand.  We will continue to update the list as the laws change.

If you have questions about the laws or the impact that they may have on you or your partner,  please contact us or post a comment below.  We really appreciate your feedback!

Allow marriage (listed by date of recognition, notwithstanding stays and/or appeals):Marriage Equality List

  1. New York (learn more)
  2. New Hampshire (learn more)
  3. Vermont (learn more here and here)
  4. Connecticut (learn more)
  5. Iowa (learn more)
  6. Massachusetts (learn more)
  7. Maryland (learn more)
  8. Maine (learn more)
  9. Washington (learn more)
  10. Washington DC (learn more)
  11. Delaware (learn more)
  12. Rhode Island (learn more)
  13. Minnesota (learn more)
  14. California (learn more)
  15. New Jersey (learn more)
  16. Hawaii (learn more and more)
  17. Illinois (learn more)
  18. Utah (learn more)
  19. New Mexico (learn more)
  20. Virginia (learn more)
  21. Texas  (enforcement stayed pending appeal – learn more and more)
  22. Oklahoma
  23. Michigan
  24. Arkansas  (as of May 16, 2014, there is a stay on same-sex marriages pending appeal)
  25. Idaho (enforcement stayed pending appeal – learn more)
  26. Pennsylvania (learn more)
  27. Oregon (learn more)
  28. Wisconsin
  29. Indiana
  30. Colorado (enforcement stayed pending appeal – learn more)
  31. Florida (learn more)
  32. Missouri
  33. Wyoming
  34. Nevada (learn more)
  35. North Carolina
  36. Kansas
  37. Alaska
  38. South Carolina
  39. Montana

Ruling that trial courts have the ability to hear divorce procedings terminating same-sex marriages created in other jurisdictions:

1. Kentucky (learn more)

2. Tennessee (enforcement stayed pending appeal –learn more and more)

3. Ohio (learn more)



Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Wills Are Important

For those living in Pennsylvania, the Allegheny County Bar Association (ACBA) has launched a webpage to make the public aware that they can now do their own Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Wills. These forms have been endorsed by the ACBA and the Allegheny County Medical Society. This is especially important for members of the LGBT community, as if you do not have these documents, under Pa. law, your partner is last on the list under the Pa. statutes to make health care decisions for you.

This does not eliminate the need to do estate planning, but when you do your estate planning, this means the attorney’s work on this portion of the estate planning becomes more efficient.

Domestic Partner/Cohabitation Agreements: Separation

by Maureen B. Cohon

This is final piece in a three-part overview of domestic partner/cohabitation agreements. Part one discussed financial and property matters, and part two covered family issues. The final installment below addresses how these agreements can smooth the process of separation.

Potential Separation
In the unfortunate event of a separation, a domestic partnership agreement can save the parties the time and expense of litigating their rights and obligations, particularly with respect to property. Clients who contact us after deciding to terminate their partnership most often find parting less stressful if there is a signed agreement that states the partners’ wishes.

Questions to Consider

  1. What would happen if the relationship was no longer working for you or your partner?If you have an agreement most of the issues, which could cause problems, would be covered.  Parting will still be painful, but the agreement will be determined by you before the separation. The agreement would have addressed:
    1. How the notice of termination is given to each other.
    2. The time limits for the purchase or sale of the home and the distribution of the equity if it is a joint ownership.
    3. Distribution of your joint accounts.
    4. Issues regarding children.
    5. Any other issues that you determine you want in the agreement.

 Remember: each couple is different, and the issues addressed here (and in parts one  and two) will not apply in every circumstance. Domestic partner/cohabitation agreements, like most family law matters, need to be tailored to the individuals it serves.

While agreements are not easy to talk about while you are happy with each other, it is better to talk now than at the end of a relationship. Of course, the best outcome would be to create and sign the agreement and then put in a safe place and never have to look at it again!

Buchanan Nontraditional Couples Chair Maureen B. Cohon Discusses Practice with Pittsburgh’s Equal Magazine

Maureen B. Cohon may not have foreseen the high level of interest she has received for the Nontraditional Families & Couples practice she started several years ago, but she jumped at the opportunity to help those seeking legal guidance.

“My clients were amazed, and dismayed, that they have to be proactive if they want their partners to be protected,” Cohon told Equal magazine in an interview published in January 2013.

“I realized that we need to help these couples who are underrepresented. They need to know they need legal help.”

Read the full article – “Laws of the Heart,” (Equal Magazine)

With that in mind, Cohon led the charge to create the Nontraditional Couples and Families Group, a multi-disciplinary practice that focuses specifically on these less represented relationships.

“In 2001, when this practice group began, we asked any lawyer from our firm who was interested to become a member of the new group, and we recenved an enormous turnout,” Cohon explained.

The group meets four to six times a year to review legal developments like the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8.

There were “no letters to the editor,” Cohon said, noting the firm’s support of the practice. “We received a tremendous response from our clients and friends who began calling and wanting advice for their own children and friends.”

“Everyone is touched by this in one way or another.”

Cohon sees a positive future for the legal issues nontraditional couples currently face

“The time is right now. Younger people – there is no question in their minds that gay marriage is a good thing. No one wants to see one group treated lesser than another.”

Wisconsin’s Conundrum

By Paul Madden, Esq.

Wisconsin is an enigma. On the one hand, Wisconsin bans same sex marriage by a broadly worded constitutional amendment, providing:

Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.  A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.

Art. 13, § 13.  Neither will Wisconsin recognize same sex marriages from another state or country.  W.S.A. § 765.04(1). 

On the other hand, of all of the states that have bans on same-sex marriage and civil unions, Wisconsin appears to be the only one that then went on to enact legislation governing the relationship between domestic partners.  W.S.A. § 770.05.  Domestic partnerships in Wisconsin provide select rights and responsibilities both to state employees (not limited to same-sex couples) and to same-sex couples generally.  The legislation addresses more than 40 rights and responsibilities, including the ability to inherit a partner’s estate in the absence of a will, hospital visitation, and the ability to access family medical leave to care for a sick partner.  It does not provide for same-sex adoptions, the disposition of human remains or other unenumerated rights. 

The tension between the constitutional amendment and the domestic partnership legislation is currently at issue in the Wisconsin courts.  On July 5, 2012, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals certified an appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court “to determine whether Wisconsin’s domestic partnership legislation violates the Wisconsin Constitution’s marriage amendment.”  Appling v. Doyle, No. 2011AP1572, 2012 WL 2579687 (Wis. Ct. App. July 5, 2012).  The appeals court framed the specific question to be whether the legislation creates “a legal status substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals, as prohibited by the marriage amendment,” but decided not to refine the issue in its certification because the issue to be resolved in the Supreme Court is uncomplicated.  The Governor of Wisconsin has refused to defend the domestic partnership legislation in the courts.

Real Property Series – Part 3 & 4 of 4: Dissolution & Conclusion

By B. Lafe Metz, Esq. & Tyler S. Dischinger, Esq.

This four part series addresses several broad issues encountered by nontraditional couples regarding the acquisition, ownership and transfer of real property. If you have not yet read part 1 or two, click here.  (See NOTE.)

  • In jurisdictions where nontraditional couples do not have the benefit of marriage statutes, they likewise do not have access to the corresponding divorce procedures. This makes for a more complicated and less predictable scenario should the two partners choose to part ways.
    Without a legal default to guide the way, it is important for the parties to be proactive by documenting their agreement about owning and maintaining the property, and keeping records of who has paid which expenses so each partner has evidence of his/her contribution to the jointly-owned property.
  • A formal joint tenancy or tenant in common agreement is often beneficial to establish a record of contributions, allocate responsibilities and benefits, and provide an agreed form of dispute resolution. While it is sometimes difficult for a couple to sit down and discuss business issues, especially early in a relationship, both partners and the relationship itself will ultimately benefit from clear communication and mutual understanding.
  • Ideally, each partner should be represented by independent counsel in the negotiation and execution of a joint tenancy or tenant in common agreement.


Nontraditional couples often own real property either as joint tenants with right of survivorship or as tenants in common. A discussion with counsel may help determine which approach is right for your family. Under either type of ownership, it is usually beneficial for the partners to enter into a written agreement addressing their respective ownership rights and obligations and providing mechanisms for future sales, leases, or mortgages of the property as well as dispute resolution procedures. If we may be helpful to your family in any way, please call Lafe Metz at 412-562-1044 or Tyler Dischinger at 412-562-1387.