On April 7, 2017, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued its opinion in Chestnut Hill College v. Pennsylvania Human Rel. Commn., 844 C.D. 2016, — A –, 2017 WL 1289250, (Pa. Commw. Apr. 7, 2017), holding, in a case of first impression, that a Catholic college’s decision to expel a student could be challenged under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”).
During administrative proceedings before the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”), Chestnut Hill College (“the college”) claimed that the PHRC lacked jurisdiction over the matter because, the college asserted, it was not a “public accommodation” under the PHRA and, moreover, that any exercise of jurisdiction would violate the college’s First Amendment rights. The PHRC rejected those arguments and the appeal followed.
The Commonwealth Court affirmed. The Court noted that the scope of “public accommodations” under the PHRA is broad. Accordingly, “[p]rovided the College accepts . . . the patronage of the general public, and is not in its nature distinctly private, it constitutes a public accommodation as defined by the Act.” The Court rejected the college’s position that it was “distinctively private” given its religious affiliation. The Court noted that unlike a parochial school, which is heavily focused on indoctrinating students in the relevant religious faith, religious colleges remain largely secular in their educational functions. The Court also rejected the college’s position that the First Amendment precluded jurisdiction. While the Court recognized that, under the First Amendment, “generally courts must defer to church hierarchy in the resolution of any ecclesiastical matter,” the Court concluded that the expulsion decision could be reviewed under “neutral principles of law” and thus the judiciary would not be tasked with delving into religious doctrine.
Chestnut Hill broadens the scope of the PHRA and PHRC. Prior to Chestnut Hill, many religious colleges and universities could rely on established precedent holding that parochial grade schools are not “public accommodations” to argue that their institutions are outside the scope of the PHRA and PHRC. Such precedent is now largely limited to parochial grade schools.
Pietragallo Partner Kevin Raphael will be speaking at the University Risk Management and Insurance Association’s (URMIA) Northeast Regional Conference on April 15th and 16th in Philadelphia, PA. Mr. Raphael will be one of three panelists, along with Benjamin Evans (Associate Vice President for Risk Management and Insurance at University of Pennsylvania) and Dean Constatine (Global… Read more »Read More
On Thursday, February 20, Pietragallo Partner Jim Marrion will sit on a panel about the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. During this three-hour CLE, offered through the Allegheny County Bar Association, panelists will discuss, in-depth, the issues under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law that attorneys need to be aware… Read more »Read More
Nationally-recognized qui tam attorney, Marc S. Raspanti, will be speaking at the Federal Bar Association’s 2020 Qui Tam Conference in Washington, DC on Thursday, February 27, 2020. This two-day conference will feature experienced FCA litigators from a variety of perspectives who will dive into advanced topics and discuss emerging trends and key developments pertaining to… Read more »Read More
Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti, LLP Partner Michael A. Morse will be presenting at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute’s (“PBI”) Health Law Institute on March 11-12, 2020. Mr. Morse’s session topic is, “Preparing for the Fight of Your Life: Anatomy of a Health Care Fraud Prosecution.” The PBI notes that the Health Law Institute is,… Read more »Read More