EDITORIAL: Pass the Fairness Act

York Dispatch
Pa Competes

Business leaders and residents continue to voice their support for legislation that would ensure employment and housing protections to gay and transgender individuals.

It’s time our lawmakers do so, too.

The York County Economic Alliance is on board with the Pennsylvania Fairness Act and there continues to be growing support across York County and the state for such protection. It’s hard to believe that in 2016, as law currently stands, it is legal to fire someone or deny them housing or other services because they are gay or transgender. But in Pennsylvania, it is.

So we would like to stand with the York Economic Alliance, Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, and the LGBT Equality Caucus to urge lawmakers to pass The Pennsylvania Fairness Act (HB 1510/SB 974). This legislation would update the state’s Human Relations Act, originally written in 1955, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, disability, and – with passage of the Fairness Act — sexual orientation and gender identity, can participate in the state’s economy.

Nearly 400 small businesses have signed a letter supporting the Fairness Act and 18 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Pennsylvania have nondiscrimination policies in place to protect gay and transgender workers.

Still, state law is necessary because employment “diversity policies” often actually safeguard a company that engages in unfair practices.

A new Harvard Business Review (HBR) study found that even when there is clear evidence of discrimination at a company, the presence of a diversity policy leads people to discount claims of unfair treatment.

In March 2013 research, HBR found that this is especially true for members of dominant groups and those who tend to believe the system is generally fair. According to HBR:

All this has a real effect in court. In a 2011 Supreme Court class action case, Walmart successfully used the mere presence of its anti-discrimination policy to defend itself against allegations of gender discrimination. And Walmart isn’t alone: the “diversity defense” often succeeds, making organizations less accountable for discriminatory practices.

Furthermore, white men, still the majority in power in the work place, tend to believe they are being treated unfairly simply due to the presence of a diversity policy – or conversation around such policies in the workplace.

In a recent experiment, HBR “found evidence that (a diversity policy) not only makes white men believe that women and minorities are being treated fairly — whether that’s true or not — it also makes them more likely to believe that they themselves are being treated unfairly.”

Last year, advocate groups launched “Pennsylvania Competes,” a bipartisan group of businesses and academic institutions to advocate for the passage of the Pennsylvania Fairness Act to ensure equal practices by law in workplace, housing and business practices.

According to Pennsylvania Competes, 78 percent of Pennsylvania voters support updating the state's nondiscrimination laws to include protections for gay and transgender people.

Founding members include: Equality Pennsylvania; American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania; American Unity Fund; Human Rights Campaign and Freedom for All Americans.

You can visit www.pacompetes.org to learn about the Pennsylvania Fairness Act and the bipartisan coalition of business and academic leaders supporting the law.

We encourage everyone to support the law that champions community, equal rights and human rights – and makes good business and economic sense, too.