Saturday, October 22, 2005

employment - wrongful discharge - sexual harassment

Weaver v. Harpster -- Pa. Superior Court, October 21, 2005

Plaintiff, an at-will employee, held to have stated a common law cause of action for wrongful discharge based on allegations of sexual harassment, even though the employer (ER) did not meet definition of "employer" under the Pa. Human Relations Act (PHRA) because it had fewer than four employees.

The court rejected the notion that there is never an alternative to the PHRA as an avenue for relief for sexual discrimination. It also held that, under the circumstances, there was a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine, because state law -- a statute and the state constitution -- established a "clear public policy against sexual discrimination."

Plaintiff had quit her job because of intolerable work conditions. Her request that the PHRC investigate and take action was rejected because the ER did not meet the statutory definition of "employer." Plaintiff then filed a case in the common pleas court claiming, inter alia, wrongful discharge. The ER's preliminary objections were sustained. The lower court held that the state PHRA provided the exclusive remedy for employment discrimination based on sex, and that since the PHRA provided plaintiff no remedy, she had none.

Donald Marritz, staff attorney
MidPenn Legal Services