Q: Can I file a Human Relations Complaint with a local municipality?
A: The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) receives complaints arising from allegations of discrimination based on race, color, familial status, age, religious creed, ancestry, sex, national origin, handicap or disability. However, it has no power to resolve discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Because local municipalities are authorized to create a local Human Relations Commission (“HRC”) with broader powers than the PHRC, many have chosen to do so. Thus, if you want to file a complaint that alleges an act of discrimination based on sexual orientation, etc., check with the local municipality where the event occurred to ask if it has the HRC with these broad powers.
Gilbert P. High, Jr., June 2011
Q: I am considering buying property and opening a business office in a suburban municipality. Should I contact the municipality for information?
A: Yes. Go to the municipal building with a statement in writing as to what use you want to make of the property. Ask the zoning officer to advise in writing whether the zoning ordinance permits that use and, if not, whether you need to get zoning approval. Ask to see any prior zoning decisions, as they may affect your use. Ask to see the building department’s property file – look for any notices of violation. Go to the Finance Office – ask what local taxes will apply to your business. Note that those taxes will apply to each entity you use in your business.
Gilbert P. High, Jr., May 2010
Q: How can the new “Right-to-Know” law affect my business?
A: Effective January 1, 2009, Pennsylvania’s revised Right-To-Know law, also called the Open Records Act, allows businesses access to copies of all “public records” kept by a governmental agency, though certain exceptions do apply. The law is useful if you are a business and want access to governmental records. However, the Open Records Act also provides that if a governmental agency has contracted with a third party to perform a governmental function, the third party’s records relating to that contract are”public records” and must be provided upon request unless an exception applies. If your business is a “third party” to such contracts, be prepared to promptly produce all of your records related to that contract should the governmental agency come knocking at your door.
Gilbert P. High, Jr., April 2009