1. What is the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations?
The Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations (PghCHR) is an independent Commission that provides outreach and education about civil and human rights issues and enforces civil rights protections within the City of Pittsburgh.
2. What is the difference between "Human Resources" and "Human Relations?"
"Human Resources" is another term for personnel -- the people who work for an employer. Many organizations view their employees as "resources" needed to accomplish the goals and objectives of their organization. Therefore, they changed their organizational framework from "personnel" to "human resources."
“Human Relations" is a term similar to human rights, referring to the relationships with or between people and groups, particularly in a professional setting. In reference to state or local government, human relation departments are responsible for promoting fair treatment and equal opportunity as well as enforcing laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. The Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations is not a human resource department and strictly deals with cases of discrimination.
3. What is discrimination?
Discrimination, by definition, means treating a person or group of people unfairly or unequally because of certain characteristics. Unlawful discrimination often involves the exclusion or restriction of members of one group from opportunities available to others. In Pittsburgh, the law protects you from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and public services based on the following characteristics (also known as “protected classes”):
- Age (employment)
- Citizenship and immigration status (housing and public accommodations)
- Familial status (housing)
- Gender identity or expression
- Hairstyles and protective and cultural hair textures and hairstyles
- Handicap or disability
- Use of a service or support animal
- National origin
- Place of birth
- Preferred language (housing and public accommodations)
- Pregnancy/partners of pregnant persons
- Sexual orientation
- Status as a survivor of domestic violence (housing)
- Hairstyles and protective and cultural hair textures and hairstyles
4. How do I know if I have been discriminated against?
Unlawful discrimination is rarely obvious and comes in many forms. If you ever wonder if you’ve experienced discrimination, our staff are here to discuss your situation with you. Just give us a call, 412-360-9553 or 412-255-2600, or send us an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org!
5. What do I do if think that I might have been discriminated against?
If you think that you might have been discriminated against in the City of Pittsburgh in housing, employment, public accommodations, or City services because of your membership in a protected class, please contact the PghCHR.
Even if you are not sure if you were discrimination against, please still contact us. The PghCHR is available to answer questions and give you information about resources, discrimination, and your rights; as well as to take complaints of unlawful discrimination.
Also, please make sure that you gather and save any notes, letters, documents, text messages, phone records, names and contact information of possible witnesses, and any other evidence that you know of. In order to determine whether discrimination happened, PghCHR investigators will ask for and review that information.
6. Who may file a complaint with the PghCHR?
Any person, group of persons, or organization(s) claiming to be harmed by unlawful discrimination within the City of Pittsburgh in housing, employment, public accommodations, or City Services may file a complaint.
7. Where do I file a complaint if I do not live in the City of Pittsburgh?
Housing discrimination complaints may be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You can find out more information on their website by clicking here or you can call them at 1-800-669-9777 or 1-800-877-8339.
Employment discrimination complaints may be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You can find out more information on their website by clicking here or you can call them at 1-800-669-4000, 1-800-669-6820 (TTY for Deaf/Hard of Hearing callers only), or 1-844-234-5122 (ASL Video Phone for Deaf/Hard of Hearing callers only).
If the alleged discrimination happened in Allegheny County, you may contact the Allegheny County Human Relations Commission. You can find more information on their website by clicking here or you can call them at (412) 350-6945.
If the alleged discrimination happened anywhere in Pennsylvania, you may contact the Pennsylvania State Human Relations Commission. You can find more information on their website by clicking here or you can call them at (717) 787-4410 or (717) 787-7279 (TTY users only).
8. How much does it cost to file a complaint with the PghCHR?
There is no charge or fee for filing a complaint with the PghCHR.
9. How long do I have to file a complaint with the PghCHR?
You have one year from the date of harm or violation of your rights to file a complaint with the PghCHR.
10. Do I need an attorney to file or respond to a complaint?
No. You do not need an attorney to file or respond to a complaint with the PghCHR. The decision to have an attorney represent you is entirely up to you. If you do have an attorney, to protect your confidentiality, we need you or them to submit something in writing verifying that they represent you, such as a notice of appearance.
You can also be represented by someone who is not an attorney. For that type of representation, the PghCHR has a form that needs to be filled out and filed. You can download it by clicking here for Complainants or by clicking here for Respondents.
Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), after a finding of probable cause, the Commission provides representation to complainants in housing discrimination cases.
11. What happens when I contact PghCHR about filing a complaint?
The Intake Coordinator will try to work with you to set up an intake appointment. During that appointment, the Intake Coordinator will ask you questions and may look at evidence to determine whether a complaint can be filed with the PghCHR. After a complete intake, the complaint will be filed, docketed, and served on the Respondent.
A “Complainant” is a person who files a complaint. A “Respondent” is a person against whom a Complaint is filed.
12. What Happens after I file a complaint?
A PghCHR staff member will send a copy of the complaint to the Respondent by certified mail. If it is a housing case, the Respondent has 10 days from the date of receiving the complaint to file an answer and position statement (known together as the “response”) with the PghCRH. In employment, public accommodations, and City services cases, the Respondent has 30 days to file a response. The Respondent should also send a copy of the answer to the Complainant. Sometimes position statements contain confidential information that does not get shared with the Complainant. Once the PghCHR receives the response, the case will be assigned to an investigator, and a letter about the assignment will be sent to the Complainant.
The investigator will then review the complaint, response, and any other submitted documents or evidence. Then the investigator will start contacting the parties and witnesses to schedule interviews and request information. To do the investigation, it is very important that investigators have up-to-date and accurate names and contact information of witnesses and parties.
The investigator will also ask the parties if they are interested in mediating/conciliating the case, which means trying to work with someone from PghCHR to reach a voluntary agreement that resolves the case. If both parties are interested in mediation/conciliation, the investigation pauses. Someone from the PghCHR contacts both parties and sets up the mediation. If an agreement is reached and approved by PghCHR, then the case will close based on the terms of the agreement. For more details on the mediation process, check out our mediation procedures.
If there is no mediation or agreement, then the investigation continues. The investigator or parties may ask for a fact-finding meeting. That meeting is an opportunity to review the evidence that has been gathered and share any evidence that has not yet been shared. In addition to reviewing evidence, the meeting is an opportunity to clarify any issue(s) raised in the case. At this point, mediation is still an option.
13. What happens when the investigation is done?
Once the investigator finishes their investigation, they present their findings and recommendation to the PghCHR’s Compliance Review Section (CRS) for a vote. The recommendations are usually for one of three outcomes: 1) to approve a settlement agreement; 2) to accept a finding that there was probable cause* that discrimination happened; or 3) to accept a finding that there was a lack of probable cause** that discrimination happened. The CRS can accept the recommendation, reach a different conclusion, or send the case back for more investigation.
*“Probable Cause” is a legal standard that means that, based on the law, circumstances, and available evidence, there is a reasonable basis to conclude that someone may have broken the law. A finding of probable cause does not require a finding of absolute certainty that someone did break the law.
**“Lack of Probable Cause” basically means that, based on the law, circumstances, and available evidence, there is not a reasonable basis to conclude that someone may have broken the law. Lack of probable cause does not necessarily mean that nothing happened. Harm comes in many forms and is felt in many ways, and the law does not always offer relief.
14. What happens after the CRS makes a determination?
The PghCHR notifies the parties of the outcome.
For cases ending in lack of probable cause or probable cause, within 10 calendar days of the notice, either party can request reconsideration based on new, relevant, and material evidence that was not already considered and that may affect the determination. The Executive Director reviews and decides on all reconsideration requests. Granting reconsideration does not necessarily mean that the determination will change.
If 1) there is a lack of probable cause finding, 2) the reconsideration period has ended, and 3) the finding remains a lack of probable cause, then the case automatically closes.
If a case was dual-filed with the EEOC and there is lack of probable cause, then the Complainant can ask the EEOC for a Substantial Weight Review through the EEOC’s regional office in Philadelphia by emailing PHLSTATEANDLOCAL@EEOC.gov
If there is probable cause finding and the reconsideration period has ended, then the PghCHR will schedule a mandatory conciliation/mediation meeting. Both parties must attend the meeting and see if they can reach an agreement, but no one can be forced to sign an agreement. If an agreement is reached, then it goes to CRS for a vote. If CRS approves the agreement, then the case will close based on the terms of the agreement. If there is no agreement, then the case may head to a public hearing in front of PghCHR’s public hearing section of Commissioners, or, in some cases, the parties may choose to go to court.
15. What is a public hearing?
A public hearing is a formal, adjudicatory process that all parties to a complaint attend. The hearing is open to the public and operates much like a court hearing. One or more Commissioners from the Public Hearing Section preside over the hearing. If the parties have attorneys, then they may be represented by them. Parties may also be represented by non-attorneys. At the hearing, the parties may testify (under oath), present evidence, and make legal arguments. In making their decision, the presiding Commissioners will consider all of those things.
If the presiding Commissioners find that the Respondent has committed any unlawful discriminatory act(s), then the Commission issues a legally binding and enforceable order. The Commission has broad authority to grant relief that will help to fix the situation. The order may include things such as requiring the Respondent to stop the discriminatory act(s); comply with civil rights law; pay money damages to the Complainant; pay attorney’s fees; undergo civil rights training; rewrite policies; and/or pay a penalty. The order may be enforced in and appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County.
16. What are some specific examples of remedies that the Commission may order?
In employment cases, potential remedies for the Complainant may include repayment of lost wages, benefits, or opportunities and reimbursement for reasonable attorney fees. The Complainant may also eligible for admission to or restoration of membership in any labor organization and reinstatement, promotion, or transfer to the position being sought.
In housing cases, potential remedies may include the purchase, rental, or lease to the Complainant of the home or apartment sought, upon equal terms, conditions, facilities, services, and privileges. The respondent may also be responsible for reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses and for the Complainant’s reasonable attorney’s fees.
In public accommodation cases, the Complainant may receive the advantages, facilities, services, privileges, products, or goods of the Respondent’s place of service or recreation. The Complainant may also receive payment of verifiable and reasonable personal expenses.
Regardless of the type of case, the Commission may also require that the Respondent receive training on civil rights law and/or adopt non-discriminatory policies. The Commission may also monitor the Respondent for a certain amount of time to ensure that the Respondent is complying with the order and not violating civil rights laws.
17. Can I access my case file and, if so, when and how?
Records pertaining to discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations are typically kept for a minimum of eight years. However, cases that have gone to public hearing are kept indefinitely.
Not all records in a case file are shared with the parties. Some records are kept confidential and protected under various laws.
If you would like to request records from your case file, please contact the Commission at (412) 255-2600 or at email@example.com You may also complete the City's Right to Know request form. For more information on Pittsburgh's Right to Know policies, please visit the website here.
18. Where can I find the Commission's Rules & Regulations?
19. Where can I find the part of the Pittsburgh City Code that applies to the Commission?
There are many sections of the Pittsburgh City Code which pertain specifically to Fair Practice. To read these sections, go to our online version of the Pittsburgh City Code, located at Municode.com.
Tips for using the HTML version of the code:
1. On the Municode.com website, click on the link for Pittsburgh, PA Code of Ordinances
2. In the left-side navigation bar, double-click on the folder icon before Title VI: Conduct.
3. Next, double-click on the small folder before Article V: Discrimination.
4. Then, double-click on the small folder before the chapter that you would like to read.
5. Finally, double-click on the small page graphic before the chapter section that you would like to read.
20. What do the Commissioners do, and how to I become one if I’m interested?
Visit our Commissioner page here for more details!