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Federal vs. State Anti-Discrimination Laws in Pennsylvania

February 24, 2023 Workplace Discrimination

How Our State Protects Workers in 2023

Both the state and the federal government have an interest in protecting workers from discrimination. While the federal government has several laws that prohibit discrimination based on various characteristics, some states go further with even stronger protections. Pennsylvania is one of those.

What Anti-Discrimination Laws Exist at the Federal Level?

There are a number of laws that prohibit discrimination on the federal level. These include:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This provision prevents discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. In 2020, a landmark ruling determined that sexual orientation and gender identity were included under “sex.”

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. This law was put in place to protect workers aged 40 and older from discrimination in the workplace. It prevents employers from basing decisions such as hiring, firing, or promotion based on a worker’s age.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. This act was added to Title VII to ensure that employers do not discriminate against pregnant workers. Under this law, the employer’s policies for health benefits, paid and unpaid leave, and job reinstatement have to apply equally to pregnant and non-pregnant workers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities across all areas of society, including transportation, communications, public accommodations, employment, and access to government services.

The realm of employment is covered by Title I of the ADA, which protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in both job seeking and in the workplace.

What Anti-Discrimination Laws Exist at the State Level in Pennsylvania?

The state-level law that prevents workplace discrimination in Pennsylvania is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Like the federal law, it prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on various protected classes.

But it goes further than federal workplace protections in several areas. For instance, the PHRA applies to any employer with more than four employees, whereas Title VII doesn’t apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees. 

In addition, the Pennsylvania state legislature voted in December 2022 to expand the definitions of various protected classes in order to strengthen those protections. The specifics include:

  • More detailed definitions of terms “sex,” “race,” and “religious creed,” to include LGBTQ+ and those with traditionally Black hairstyles and hair textures.
  • A definition of “sex” that includes pregnancy and breastfeeding status, gender identity, sex assigned at birth, sexual orientation, and differences in sex development.
  • A broad definition of “race” to include ethnic characteristics, ancestry, national origin, interracial marriage, and traits associated with various ethnicities such as hairstyle.
  • An expanded definition of “religious creed” to include both beliefs and observance and practices.

Some of these protections already exist at the federal level. However, the definitions under this act are both broader and more specific in applying to more protected classes.  

Are You Experiencing Discrimination at Work? Talk to an Attorney

The law is supposed to protect you from discrimination in the workplace—but sometimes employers go against those laws. If that’s what you are experiencing, you need to talk to a lawyer. Your employment attorney can determine the scope of your employer’s violation, and help you gain restitution in court.

Call us at 267-273-1054 or email us at for a free, confidential consultation today.

The information provided here does not constitute legal advice. It is intended for general purposes only. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should speak to an attorney.