ACLU Blasts University of Pittsburgh for Attempting to Destroy Anti-Discrimination Protections for Gay People

June 24, 2004 12:00 am

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PITTSBURGH – The American Civil Liberties Union today denounced the University of Pittsburgh for asking a Pennsylvania court to strike down all laws in the state against sexual orientation discrimination. The ACLU’s statement came as it filed a brief in Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in a lawsuit related to its litigation against the University of Pittsburgh for equal employment benefits for gay employees.

“It’s bad enough that Pitt is refusing to provide equal benefits to its lesbian and gay employees,” said ACLU cooperating attorney E.J. Strassburger. “But it’s especially shameful that they are trying to strip the City of Pittsburgh and other cities throughout the state of their authority to protect lesbian and gay people from discrimination.”

In its brief, the University of Pittsburgh argues that the City of Pittsburgh did not have the authority to include sexual orientation protection in its civil right ordinance since sexual orientation was not covered by state civil rights protections. Such reasoning would invalidate civil rights ordinances in other Pennsylvania cities including Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Lancaster, York and Erie that also protect against sexual orientation.

The ACLU initially brought a discrimination claim against the University of Pittsburgh before the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations. Trying to avoid a hearing on the discrimination charges, the University brought this lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas seeking an injunction to bar the Commission on Human Relations from hearing the case. The Court of Common Pleas sided with the University. The case is now before the Commonwealth Court, which will decide whether or not the Commission on Human Relations can hear the case.

“It’s astonishing how much time and resources the University has sunk into this lawsuit, just so it can cheat a small percentage of its employees out of the compensation they’re due,” said Witold “Vic” Walczak, the Legal Director for the ACLU’s Greater Pittsburgh Chapter. “It’s precisely this type of behavior that proves why we need ordinances like the one in Pittsburgh that protect gay people from discrimination.”

Since this litigation began, more and more colleges and universities have chosen to provide domestic partnership benefits to lesbian and gay employees. At least 198 colleges and universities across the country now do so. In February 2003, both Temple and Drexel Universities in Pennsylvania began offering their gay employees domestic partnership benefits.

Oral arguments before the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania are expected to take place later this year.

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