Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

October 10, 2005



Pennsylvania singles subsidize job rights for everyone but themselves

by Thomas F. Coleman
Kiki Peppard is one of more than 3.7 million unmarried adults who live in Pennsylvania -- a state where 49 percent of the households are headed up by single people.

Kiki has a single focus these days.  She is upset that Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which was originally enacted on October 27, 1955, does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of "marital status." 

The state statute does forbid employers and landlords from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, and disability.

The omission of "marital status" from Pennsylvania's laws regulating fair employment and fair housing practices has been bothering Kiki for more than 10 years.  That's when she launched a campaign to amend the law to fill this legal gap which leaves millions of single people vulnerable to the personal prejudices of employers and landlords.

Kiki hasn't always lived in Pennsylvania.  For many years she lived in neighboring New York state where she worked as a secretary, administrative assistant, and bookkeeper -- all which outstanding performance evaluations.

When she moved to Pennsylvania and started going on job interviews, Kiki noticed that something was different.  Prospective employers started questioning her about her personal life, specifically asking Kiki whether she was married and whether she had children at home. 

This had never happened to her in New York.  Maybe that's because New York is one of 20 states with fair employment laws that prohibit "marital status" discrimination in employment. 

Kiki's job search in Pennsylvania was more than she could tolerate.  In 18 of 20 interviews, the focus either started with or soon shifted to the fact that Kiki was unmarried and had two teenage kids at home. 

Some employers came right out and said that they would not hire an unmarried woman, especially a single mom.  How could they be so brazen? 

Kiki soon found out.  Pennsylvania law not only allows employers to question applicants about their marital status, it permits them to favor married employees and to discriminate against unmarried workers.

When Kiki applied for a position at a manufacturing company, the first question asked of her was "You married?"  Caught off guard, Kiki meekly disclosed that she was not.

Moving right along, the next question was "Got any kids?"  Sensing that a trap was being laid, Kiki nevertheless advised the boss that she had two teenagers.

The interview was immediately halted when Kiki was told "I'm not interested in hiring you." The boss explained that "women with kids take too much time off work so that's why I don't hire them."  He indicated that he was not interested in checking her superior attendance record with former employers, telling Kiki "you're all the same."

After several more interviews demonstrated a clear pattern that employers seemed more interested in her personal life than her business experience, Kiki vowed that the next time the question about marital status was raised, she would refuse to answer.  So when it happened during the next interview, she stuck to her guns and declined to respond.  The interview was terminated immediately.

Rubbing salt into the wound, one employer -- a lawyer -- said that if he did hire her that her hourly rate of pay would be affected by her marital status.  Less pay for unmarried women, of course.

The employer explained that he likes to hire married women because he saves money.  He does not have to provide health benefits to the married women in his office because they all have health benefits provided through their husband's place of employment.  So if he were to hire Kiki, her wages would be reduced by the amount he would have to pay for her health benefits.

Kiki went to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to complain about this clear and open pattern of marital status discrimination.  Although the commissioners and staff were sympathetic, there was nothing the Commission could do unless the law was changed.

So in 1995 Kiki embarked on a campaign to add "marital status" to the Human Relations Act.  After several years of writing letters and making phone calls to dozens of state legislators and other elected officials, Kiki finally found a sponsor for the bill.

In the Spring of 2001, Rep. Craig Dally (R-Nazareth) introduced a measure into the Assembly.  About 30 other legislators joined as cosponsors of the bill which proposed outlawing discrimination on the basis of "marital status" and "familial status."  The latter provision was intended to prevent employers from discriminating against workers who have children at home.

Dally's bill and a companion measure in the state Senate both died in committee the following year. 

But despite this defeat and years of frustration, Kiki is like the "energizer bunny" -- she keeps going and going and going.  She was able to have new bills introduced into both houses of the Legislature again this year.

Dally's bill, HB 352, was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee which is chaired by Rep. Dennis M. O'Brien.  SB 440, a companion bill introduced by Senator Jane Clare Orie is sitting in the Senate Labor and Industry Committee which is chaired by Sen. Joseph Scarnati.

Right now, the fate of these bills lies with the chair of each committee.  They can either call the bills up for a hearing or kill them by letting them languish.

Rising to the challenge, Kiki has a marketing plan designed to convince Rep. O'Brien and Sen. Scarnati to pay attention to these bills and to move them forward. 

If you live in Pennsylvania, Kiki wants your help.  If you have family members or friends who live in Pennsylvania, Kiki wants their help.

October 27, 2005 is the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.  Kiki is asking that people in Pennsylvania -- whether they are married or unmarried -- send a fax or e-mail or place a phone call to Rep. O'Brien and Sen. Scarnati asking them to schedule these bills for a hearing. 

She also wants people to contact their own legislators asking them to press the committee chairs for hearings on these bills.

Perhaps Kiki should include letters sent though the mail as another recommended way to communicate with Sen. Scarnati and Rep. O'Brien.  Letters could include the box top from a package of tea bags along with a note protesting "taxation without representation." 

Legislators could be reminded that millions of single people are paying taxes to support the daily operations of the state Human Relations Commission.  And yet, if these unmarried taxpayers go to the Commission's office with a complaint about marital status discrimination, the agency staff can't lift a finger to help them. 

The tea bag gimmick worked in Massachusetts to raise public attention to to an injustice over 200 years ago.  Perhaps it could stir things up this year in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Joseph Scarnati
Senate Box 203025
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3025
(717) 787-7084
(717) 772-2755-Fax


Rep. Dennis M. O'Brien
100 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120-2020
(717) 787-5689
Fax: (717) 787-1339


Click here to find your own legislator in Pennsylvania.

Unmarried America 2005

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.