Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. St. Joe Minerals Corp., Zinc Smelting Division

Decision Date26 January 1978
Parties, 30 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 372, 16 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 8280 PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION, Appellant, v. ST. JOE MINERALS CORPORATION, ZINC SMELTING DIVISION, Appellee.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Frank Finch, III, Pa. Human Relations Commission, Philadelphia, Sanford Kahn, Pa. Human Relations Comm., Harrisburg, for appellant.

Robert W. Hartland, Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay, Pittsburgh, for appellee.




This litigation had its genesis in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission's investigation, in conjunction with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), into the employment practices of various companies throughout this Commonwealth.

Designated the "Target Company Project," the project involved a statistical review by the Commission of every major employer in the state, with a view towards initiating formal proceedings against any employer thought to be engaging in discriminatory practices.

Respondent St. Joe Mineral Corporation (St. Joe), one of the employers under scrutiny, received a questionnaire from the Commission's Executive Secretary on May 26, 1971, seeking information concerning the makeup of its work force force. Respondent compiled the requested data and forwarded the information to the Commission.

On August 21, the Commission, appellant in this case, served respondent with a complaint charging it with discriminatory employment practices in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 P.S. §§ 951-963 (1964 & Supp.1977-78). Accompanying the complaint was a set of written interrogatories, seeking detailed information which bore on the alleged discriminatory practices. Respondent refused to answer the interrogatories despite the Commission's admonition that unless the interrogatories were answered within 21 days, the Commission would "draw such adverse inferences as may be appropriate from the failure to complete the questions."

Before further action was taken by the Commission, the Commonwealth Court, in a case involving the same "target project," unanimously held that a complaint nearly identical to the one served on respondent failed to set forth the particulars of the alleged discriminatory practices as required by § 9 of the PHRA, 43 P.S. § 959 (1964). Pennsylvania Human Rel. Comm'n v. United States Steel Corp., 10 Pa.Cmwlth. 408, 311 A.2d 170 (1973). The Commonwealth Court purportedly did not decide whether the Commission could obtain judicial enforcement of an order directing answers to interrogatories.

This Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court. Pennsylvania Human Rel. Comm'n v. United States Steel Corp., 458 Pa. 559, 325 A.2d 910 (1974). We agreed that the Commission's complaint was deficient in that it did not "set forth the particulars" of the alleged discriminatory practice as required by § 9 of the PHRA. Absent a proper complaint, we held that the Commission's enumerated powers delineated in § 7(g) of the PHRA were not available to the Commission; that being so, we had "serious doubts" regarding the Commission's power to compel answers to interrogatories under the same procedural infirmity. 458 Pa. at 565-66, 325 A.2d at 913-14. We expressed no opinion in United States Steel concerning the Commission's interrogatory power in a proceeding initiated by a complaint meeting the requirements of § 9.

Faced with our decision in United States Steel, the Commission renewed its attempted investigation of respondent, twice amending its complaint to include employment statistics obtained from the EEOC which purportedly demonstrated discriminatory hiring, placement, and promotional practices by respondent. In an attempt to discover detailed information bearing on these employment practices, the Commission again sent interrogatories to respondent, requesting that they be answered. Respondent refused, whereupon the Commission formally ordered compliance within fifteen days. When respondent again refused to answer the interrogatories, the Commission petitioned the Commonwealth Court to enforce its order that they be promptly answered.

The Commonwealth Court dismissed the petition. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. St. Joe Minerals Corp., Zinc Smelting Division, 24 Pa.Cmwlth. 455, 357 A.2d 233 (1976). The Commonwealth Court held that the Commission's twice-amended complaint met the particularity requirement of § 9 of the PHRA, but refused to enforce the Commission's order that respondent answer the interrogatories. Although it was the Commission's prerogative to issue and request answers to interrogatories, in its view it could not judicially enforce an order to answer interrogatories since the PHRA did not authorize use of interrogatories as a means of discovery.

This direct appeal presents two issues for resolution: (1) whether the Commission's complaint satisfies § 9 of the PHRA, and (2) whether the Commission can obtain judicial enforcement of its order that respondent answer written interrogatories. We think the Commonwealth Court correctly decided both these issues, and for the following reasons, we affirm its order.


Section 9 of the PHRA, as amended, 43 P.S. § 959 (Supp.1977-78), provides that the Commission may, on its own initiative, file a complaint against one allegedly engaging in discriminatory practices. A complaint lodged by the Commission, no less than a complaint filed by any other moving party, must "set forth the particulars" of the alleged discriminatory practice. The Commission's complaint, after identifying the parties involved, asserts that respondent "discriminates in its hiring of Blacks and females and fails or refuses to utilize recruitment sources which will, or may reasonably be expected to, provide it with Black and female applicants." This assertion is followed by statistics such as the percentage of Blacks in respondent's work force in comparison to the percentage of Blacks in the surrounding county, the number of minorities employed in managerial positions, and the percentage of females at respondent's place of business in comparison to the percentage of females in the area. Based on these statistics obtained from the EEOC, the complaint concludes by charging that "Respondent maintains a pattern and practice of discriminating on the basis of race, sex, and national origin in its hiring, classification, and promotion policies, and its employment practices in connection therewith."

The statistics demonstrate substantial employment imbalances at respondent's place of business. The complaint demonstrates the fact that respondent hires fewer women than men, has a disproportionate number of Caucasian employes in managerial positions, employs a smaller percentage of Blacks than the percentage residing in the surrounding county. The complaint does more than give respondent notice that a complaint has been filed against it; it informs it of the facts giving rise to the Commission's reason to believe that respondent is engaging in unlawful employment practices. Hence, the complaint comports with Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1019, which this Court has suggested guides us in assaying the sufficiency of a complaint under § 9 of the PHRA. Pennsylvania Human Relations Comm'n v. United States Steel, supra, 458 Pa. at 565, 325 A.2d at 913.

Appellee argues that the complaint is not "free of substantial defect" nor "legally adequate" because the Commission could have interviewed respondent's representatives and employes in order to determine the reasons for the imbalance. We do not agree. The filing of the complaint in no way militates against voluntary compliance by St. Joe; a respondent is still at liberty to explain away racial or sex imbalances. The purpose of the complaint under § 9 is to apprise the Commission of the employment practices which may prove to be unlawful, and the Commission's figures sufficed to warrant further investigation.

Appellee also argues that because the complaint, filed in January, 1975, is based on employment statistics compiled for the year 1972, it fails to comport with § 9. Again we do not agree. Many employment relationships are not short term. The racial or sexual composition of an employer's work force generally does not undergo a drastic change from year to year. Indeed, respondent does not allege that were more recent statistics compiled, they would reflect different ratios than those documented in the 1972 figures. We think the Commission could reasonably conclude that substantial racial imbalances existing at respondent's plant in 1972 would still exist two or three years later.

The Commonwealth Court correctly concluded that the complaint is sufficient to meet the requirements of § 9 of the Human Relations Act.


The Human Relations Commission's investigatory powers are enumerated in § 7(g) of the PHRA, 43 P.S. § 957(g) (1964). That section empowers the Commission:

"To hold hearings, subpoena witnesses, compel their attendance, administer oaths, take testimony of any person under oath or affirmation and, in connection therewith, to require the production for examination of any books and papers relating to any matter under investigation . . . ."

It is undisputed that § 7(g) does not expressly give the Commission the power to engage in discovery by written interrogatories. Section 6 of the PHRA, id. § 956, also gives the Commission all powers conferred on administrative agencies generally by the Administrative Code of 1929, 71 P.S. § 51-732 (1962 & Supp.1977-78). Although the Code gives agencies the power to subpoena witnesses as well as documentary evidence, id. § 200, it too is silent on an agency's power to issue and compel answers to interrogatories.

The Commission argues that we would...

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