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You File a Complaint

The Complaint Process 

If you believe you have been the victim of unlawful discrimination in employment, education, housing or public accommodations, you may discuss your concerns with a Commission staff member, who will answer your questions and help you decide whether you should file a complaint.

Commission intake staff members are available to help you draft the wording of the complaint and prepare it in legal form for your verified signature. Before you sign the complaint, make sure that it is an accurate account of what happened to you, to the best of your knowledge and belief. This is important, because Pennsylvania law provides penalties for persons who knowingly file false complaints.

You must file your complaint within 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination, unless you are able to convince the Commission that you are legally justified in not filing within this period.

You have the right to be represented before the Commission by a private attorney, if you so desire.

If your allegations are covered under federal laws enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Housing and Urban Development (HUD), PHRC will file your complaint with the appropriate federal agency.

After you have filed your complaint, it will be assigned a docket number and will be served on the respondent (the person you have named in your complaint as responsible for the alleged discrimination) within 30 daysof the date of docketing. The respondentis required to answer your complaint within no more than 60 days of the date it was served. The respondent is required to provide you with a copy of their answer.


The Investigation

Your complaint will be investigated by a commission investigator. In dealing with your investigator, please remember that you must give all the facts, if the commission is to properly resolve your complaint. Make your investigator fully aware of details. Answer all questions you are asked, even if you think the answer might weaken your complaint. Your investigator will then be better prepared if such information is discussed by the respondent.

Names, dates, places, and addresses should be as accurate as possible.

Please make available to your investigator any witnesses or documents, such as a payroll slip or a rent receipt,that may help proveyour charges. The commission has the power to subpoena relevant witnesses or documents if necessary.

The law prohibits anyone from taking any action against you because you have filed a complaint, or against a witness who has testified or assisted in a commission proceeding, or against anyone who has otherwise opposed any practice forbidden by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. (This is called retaliation.)

Please keep your investigator advised of any change in your address or telephone number, or the address or phone number of your attorney.


The Fact-Finding Conference and further Investigation

A Fact-Finding Conference is often held by the Commission as early as possible in the process. Commission staff will conduct the conference, at which you and the respondent present evidence and documents. This conference is designed to speed up the investigation and possiblyhelp reach a fair settlement of your complaint. It is NOT a public proceeding or a hearing.


Please note that a Fact-Finding Conference may not be held in your case. There are several reasons why a Fact-Finding Conference may not be held: the case may be settled, a complainant or respondent may refuse to participate or the investigator may determine that a conference is not necessary based upon all of the circumstances. If your complaint is not resolved at the Fact-Finding Conference or if one is not held, the investigation will continue.

The investigator will interview the respondent, any other relevant witnesses, and all pertinent records and documents. You may be asked to clarify your complaint in the light of new information, or to rebut the responses of the respondent. If you should learn or remember any additional information, please notify your investigator immediately.


Results of the Investigation

The commission investigation may find either


  • no probable cause, or lack of jurisdiction, and move to dismiss the complaint, or
  • probable cause, and act to correct the discrimination and its effects

Cases may also be resolved by a voluntary settlement (agreed to by both parties) prior to a formal finding, or by an administrative closure, for example if you withdraw your case or file in court.

You will be notified by mail if the Commission dismisses the case. The notice will include any appeal rights you may have.

If, within one year after you file a complaint with the Commission, the complaint has not been resolved, or if the Commission dismisses your complaint, you may bring action in a Court of Common Pleas or in Commonwealth Court.


The Conciliation

If the investigation establishes probable cause, efforts to conciliate (settle) will take place as soon as possible. The respondent will be asked to 1) cease and desist from the specific discriminatory act or practice involved in the complaint, and 2) implement whatever actions, programs or compensation the Commission deems necessary to remedy the discrimination uncovered in the investigation.


The Public Hearing

If after a probable cause finding the case has not settled, the Commission may convene a Public Hearing* at which testimony under oath is presented. Your complaint will be represented by a Commission attorney, or by a private attorney if you prefer. A decision will be rendered and a legally enforceable order issued. This order may be appealed to Commonwealth Court.


*In certain housing cases, parties will be permitted to elect court action instead of a PHRC Public Hearing.