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August 29, 2013

Rainbow Alliance attorneys urge action by HRC on discrimination complaint

Attorneys for the Rainbow Alliance want the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations to avoid further delay in resolving the student group’s complaint that some Pitt practices and policies discriminate against transgender and gender non-conforming people.

The commission last month found probable cause for the student organization’s complaint but the University on July 12 asked that the commission reconsider its decision (see July 25 University Times).

In turn, Rainbow Alliance attorneys earlier this month responded, urging action.

Pitt is arguing that it has been denied fair and due process and that the commission is holding the University to a higher standard than it applies to itself.

In its 2012 complaint, the Rainbow Alliance, a student group that advocates for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer and allied community, alleged 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.

In its complaint 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.

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.” Following its investigation into the Rainbow Alliance complaint, the human relations commission in early July found that the evidence supported the group’s claim.

In the Aug. 6 response to the University’s request that the commission reconsider its finding, Rainbow Alliance counsel Susan J. Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project disputed the University’s due process claim. Frietsche argued that the commission’s preliminary finding “merely advances this dispute to the stage at which the University will have an opportunity for future mediation, an opportunity to pursue discovery, and then an opportunity to present witnesses and other evidence at a hearing of which it will have prior notice, before it is potentially deprived of any of its protected rights.”

She further argued that the University had ample notice of the commission’s investigation, adding that the preliminary finding “was more than justified by the facts” in the Rainbow Alliance complaint statements.

“Granting the University’s request would further delay resolution of a complaint filed over a year and three months ago. Rainbow Alliance contends that the University’s practices have inflicted and continue to inflict serious harm on transgender and gender non-conforming students, staff, faculty and visitors,” Frietsche wrote.

She noted that three mediation conferences between the parties, held in April, May and June, failed to resolve the dispute.

“It is time for the parties in this dispute to move forward to resolution,” she said.

The commission will consider the University’s request to reconsider its decision at an upcoming monthly meeting, according to director Charles Morrison.

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 proceed in a public hearing before a decision is issued.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 46 Issue 1

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