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July 25, 2013

Pitt asks HRC to reconsider discrimination decision

The University has asked the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations for reconsideration of its decision in a student group’s discrimination complaint against the University.

At its July 1 meeting the commission found probable cause for the Rainbow Alliance’s claim that some Pitt practices and policies discriminate on the basis of sex against people who are transgender, are changing their gender identity or are non-gender-conforming. (See July 11 University Times.)

Under the city code, the definition of sex includes “the gender of a person, as perceived, presumed or assumed by others, including those who are changing or have changed their gender identification.”

The Rainbow Alliance, a student group that advocates for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer and allied community, filed a claim in 2012 alleging that individuals were prohibited from using campus “bathrooms, locker rooms, student housing and other accommodations provided with extracurricular activities” that correspond to the gender with which they identified, if that gender differed from what was shown on the person’s birth certificate.

It also claimed transgender students were discriminated against by being required to provide birth certificates or medical documentation in order to change their gender/sex designation on University transcripts, official records and in pronouns/salutations in University correspondence.

P. Jerome Richey, Pitt’s general counsel, told the University Times that the University filed its request for reconsideration on July 12. He said the University believes it has been denied fair and due process by the commission.

“The commission did not in a single instance contact the University for the purpose of seeking witness interviews or documents from University officials.

Further, the finding of probable cause commingles a variety of issues and practices (or alleged practices) under a single conclusory finding without any evidentiary or legal analysis of the respective issues and practice,” Richey told the University Times. He reiterated the University’s position that the commission “seems to be holding the University to a different standard than the one it applies to itself and to other organizations.”

In earlier comments (see July 11 University Times), Richey said, “The University is neither aware of any comparative ‘restroom access’ practices having been adopted by the City of Pittsburgh, nor does the commission’s determination cite to any such practices in operation within city-owned buildings.”

Rainbow Alliance attorney Tara Pfeifer of the Women’s Law Project said a response to the University’s request for reconsideration is being prepared.

Charles Morrison, director of the human relations commission, confirmed that the University had filed the reconsideration request but would not disclose additional details.

He said the matter would come before the commission sometime this fall. The commission typically holds monthly public meetings but does not meet in August.

The commission’s goal is to resolve complaints and foster agreement between the parties. Where a violation of the law is found, the commission must bring the party into compliance, remedy any harm and institute remedial measures, Morrison said.

If the commission does not reverse its finding and close the case, the matter, if unresolved, would be aired in a public hearing before a decision is issued.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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