The Commonwealth Court issued a long-awaited opinion Friday finding that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority was not subject to Philadelphia's LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance.
After seven discrimination complaints — two of which were based on anti-LGBT discrimination complaints — were filed against the transit agency from 2007-09, SEPTA filed a lawsuit in 2009 challenging the authority of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, which enforces the city's Fair Practices Ordinance. That law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, among other classes, in employment, housing and public accommodations.
The Court of Common Pleas found in PCHR’s favor, but SEPTA appealed to Commonwealth Court, which found in SEPTA’s favor. PCHR appealed to the state Supreme Court, which found that Commonwealth Court ruled on the wrong standard and remanded it back to that court, with instructions for how to review the case, leading to Friday's ruling.
The judges this week wrote that the legislature, in creating transit agency, "did not intend SEPTA to be subject to a local anti-discrimination ordinance." Instead, they found, SEPTA need only abide by the state's Human Relations Act, which prohibits discrimination based on such factors as race, religion and age. Efforts to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state law have long been stalled in the state legislature, a fact observed by the judges in their opinion.
"SEPTA cannot engage in invidious discrimination at will and does not wish to do so. It is up to the General Assembly, not the city, to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to enlarge the categories of citizens protected from invidious discrimination," the judges wrote.
PCHR executive director Rue Landau could not immediately be reached for comment.