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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: January 12, 2017 03:11 PM
From: Representative Seth M. Grove
To: All House members
Subject: Reforming the Human Relations Commission
In 1955, the General Assembly passed Act 222; this act, known as the Human Relations Act, established a Human Relations Commission (HRC). The purpose of this commission was to investigate and work to prevent discrimination in the workplace. Although the HRC was established with the best of intentions, the commission is now in dire need of reform. According to the 2013-2014 annual report from the commission itself, the average age of a case before the commission is 487 days. This is unacceptable as it means victims of discrimination will wait approximately 16 months before the commission reaches a decision on their complaint.

Equally unacceptable is the cost a long and protracted legal process has on employers who may not be found guilty of discrimination. According to the same annual report, despite over 3,000 alleged acts of discrimination before the commission, 63% of cases investigated were closed. In 1,643 cases, the case was closed because the commission found a lack of probable cause. According to the 2013-2014 report, only 40 cases were found to have probable cause; of those, 35 were settled within the year. This means for many companies the legal cost of handling an unfounded complaint could drag out over a year. These legal costs can lead to negative economic results as employers may stop expansion or reduce worker hours to handle increased costs.

In the near future, I plan to introduce legislation which would make important reforms to the Human Relations Commission to improve the investigation process and reduce costs from wrongful claims. These reforms would establish a new process dictating the commission completes an investigation into a complaint within 180 days of receiving a complaint. After receiving a complaint, the commission has 20 days to notify the respondent about the existence of a complaint. Any hearing done by the commission must take no more than 12 days with a decision being made no more than 30 days later. Under these reforms, the investigative process for a complaint before the commission will take no more than 222 days before reaching a final decision.

These reforms will also encourage the commission to persuade the involved parties to reach a settlement at every stage of the process. These settlements are important in reducing the amount of time it takes to close a case before the HRC. This fact was evidenced in the mediation pilot program which closed, on average, a case every 33 days. For cases which are not settled prior to a hearing, the new deadline of 145 days means cases will be resolved within 45% of the time it currently takes an average case before the HRC.

In addition, this legislation will reform the Human Relations Act to reduce the cost to employers who are forced to fight a claim which has been found to lack probable cause. If an employer has arbitrarily been brought before the commission they may ask the commission to award reimbursement for legal costs. The Commission, after receiving such a request, will examine the case and determine if the employer is to be reimbursed.

Please join me and co-sponsor this legislation which will drastically improve the efficiency of the Human Relations Commission and reimburse defendants for the cost from a wrongful claim. If you have any questions please contact Jordan Grant by email at Jgrant@pahousegop.com or by phone at 717-767-3947.

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Introduced as HB402