Pa. House and Senate Democrats, Gov. Wolf tout bills fighting workplace harassment, discrimination

State Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Philadelphia, speaks during a Capitol news conference on bills fighting workplace discrimination and harassment (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

House and Senate Democrats gathered Tuesday to roll out a package of bills they say would ensure a safe and equitable workplace for all state residents.

“The #MeToo movement showed us that sexual harassment in the workplace is far more expansive than we knew,” Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione, of Philadelphia, said during a Capitol news conference Tuesday morning. “We’re working to craft a comprehensive package [of bills] that studies sexual harassment and prevents it in the future.”

The measures unveiled Tuesday dramatically expand Pennsylvania’s existing Human Relations Act to provide protections across the public and private sector. Backers say identical versions of the bills will be introduced in the state House and Senate.

As currently envisioned, according to Senate Democrats, the bills would:

  • “Cover contractors and unpaid interns under the protections of the Human Relations Act
  • “Amend the Human Relations Act to require employers to provide training to employees and to require standardized fair practice postings to specifically include examples of harassment and discrimination
  • “Require sexual harassment training for lobbyists
  • “Extend the Human Relations Act to include domestic workers
  • “Provide right to jury trial, punitive damages and an extended statute of limitations under the Whistleblower Bill
  • “Expand the Human Relations Act to include coverage from four employees to one employee, add the right to a jury trial, punitive damages, attorney fees and extend the statute of limitations
  • “Require employers to adopt written workplace harassment policies and reporting procedures,” and
  • “Add sexual orientation and gender expression or identity to the list of classifications protected under the Pa. Human Relations Act.”

“We have made some great strides as a nation and as a commonwealth at identifying some of the behaviors that would otherwise be brushed aside,” said Gov. Tom Wolf, who joined Democratic lawmakers at the event in the Capitol Media Center. “Now we’re going to identify them for what they really are. It’s not just a compliment, it’s harassment. It’s not just a joke, it’s discrimination. And we still have more work to do.”

READ MORE: Pa. House bill calls for#MeToo complaints to be investigated by independent office

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, is sponsoring the House version of a bill banning workplace employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination because of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. He cast the fight for the bills as not just a moral one, but an economic one.

New workers and tourists “want to know that they’re coming to a tolerant state that embraces diversity,” said Frankel, who called on House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, to assign his bill to an oversight committee, where it eventually could be brought to the House floor for a vote.

In past years, the bill was assigned to the State Government Committee, where it languished under former Chair Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler.

State Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, speaks during a Capitol news conference on bills fighting workplace harassment and discrimination (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Philadelphia, is sponsoring the House version of a bill that guarantees harassment victims the right to trial by jury. She said the state needs to end a situation where “victims sit in silence,” instead of pursuing justice.

Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, thanked Tartaglione, as well as Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, and other women lawmakers in the House and Senate, who have been carrying the standard in the harassment fight.

“I’m very confident that, with new energy and the wisdom of old, the Capitol will become the exemplar of what all workplaces should be like.”

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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