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The Economic Importance of Nondiscrimination Legislation

November 17, 2015

The Economic Importance of Nondiscrimination Legislation

By Barbara Darkes, Esq., Member, McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, Harrisburg and Joseph S. Sileo, Of Counsel, McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, Scranton.

The current human relations law governing Pennsylvania’s nondiscrimination policy was written in 1955. Let’s consider what was occurring in the world in 1955:

  • The U.S. president was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  • Elvis Presley made his television debut.
  • The first McDonald’s opened.
  • The Vietnam War began.
  • Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat and was arrested.

Today in Pennsylvania, it is legal to fire someone, evict them and their family from their home, or deny service at a public establishment based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.  Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast where this can still occur.  While these actions were legal in 1955 and remain legal today, it is time – 60 years later – for these discriminatory allowances and actions to end.

More than 78 percent of Pennsylvanians agree.  In fact, more than 74 percent believe such discrimination is already illegal.

The current law ensures that all Pennsylvania citizens, regardless of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, sex, national origin and disability can participate – free of discrimination – in the state’s economy.  Updating the law by passing the Pennsylvania Fairness Act will include protection from discrimination for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians.

This update to Pennsylvania’s law is important both for the obvious human relations reasons and for continued economic development.

When deciding on locations to build or expand a business, employers take many factors into consideration. A highly skilled workforce is typically the first and most important. Both small and large companies want to do business in states that will attract and maintain a vibrant and diverse workforce. The Pennsylvania Fairness Act will convey Pennsylvania’s commitment to ensuring that every person has the opportunity to participate in the economy and provide for their family without fear of facing unfair discrimination. This is about treating others as we expect to be treated—a value we share as Pennsylvanians, Americans, and human beings.

More and more businesses agree that legislation protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals is critical to help businesses succeed.  In fact, for the first time in its history, CNBC’s Top States for Business survey considered each state’s nondiscrimination policies as one of the survey metrics.

A robust coalition of businesses large and small, grassroots leaders across party lines, non-profit organizations and academic institutions have already joined together – under the name, Pennsylvania Competes – in support of winning nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Pennsylvanians. More than 100 members of the state legislature, both Republicans and Democrats, support updating the law.   Hundreds of coalition members have pledged support as have hundreds of citizens as part of the Statewide Action Team of grassroots proponents.

The pledge states, in part: “We believe updating Pennsylvania’s nondiscrimination law will make the state a stronger economic competitor in attracting the highly skilled millennial workforce [. . . .] Pennsylvania’s current and future workforce deserves to be judge based on their qualifications to do their work – nothing more, nothing less.”

We invite you to join the statewide team and take action to bring nondiscrimination protections to Pennsylvania by passing the Pennsylvania Fairness Act.  Contact your state legislator now.  Visit the website and sign the pledge –

After all, the same survey we cited above also found that 84 percent of Pennsylvanians have a family member, friend, someone they are close to, or a close work colleague who is gay or lesbian.  Among senior citizens, 72 percent indicated that they are close to someone who is gay or lesbian.  Passing the Pennsylvania Fairness Act is about bringing fairness to those we know and in many cases to those we love.

Barbara Darkes is an attorney with McNees Wallace & Nurick, LLC in Harrisburg. She is also the current President of the Board for the Central Pennsylvania LGBT Center.  Joseph Sileo is an attorney with McNees Wallace & Nurick, LLC in Scranton.   ###

McNees is a full-service law firm based in central Pennsylvania with more than 130 attorneys representing corporations, associations, institutions and individuals. The firm serves clients worldwide from offices in Harrisburg, Lancaster, State College and Scranton, PA; Columbus, OH; and Washington, D.C. McNees is also a member of the ALFA International Global Legal Network. @McNeeslaw LinkedIn