Zamantakis v. Com., Human Relations Commission

Decision Date14 August 1973
Citation308 A.2d 612,10 Pa.Cmwlth. 107
PartiesGeorge ZAMANTAKIS and Bessie Zamantakis, Appellants, v. COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION, Appellee.
CourtPennsylvania Commonwealth Court

Argued May 9, 1973.

Brose, Poswistilo, LaBarr & Jacobs, J Stephen Kreglow, Easton, for appellants.

Sanford Kahn, Asst. Atty. Gen., Harrisburg, for appellee.




This is an appeal from an Order of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (Commission) dated November 27, 1972, in which George Zamantakis and Bessie Zamantakis, his wife (collectively referred to as Zamantakis) were ordered to cease and desist from committing any unlawful and discriminatory practices as defined in Section 5(h)(1) of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (hereinafter referred to as the Act), Act of October 27 1955, P.L. 744, as amended, 43 P.S. § 955(h)(1). [1] Zamantakis was also ordered by the Commission to pay to Sylvester Thornton and Willis Thornton [2] (Thorntons) 'the sum of $250.00 (each) in order to compensate them for the mental anguish and humiliation which they experienced as a result of the (Zamantakis') unlawful discriminatory practices.'

In appealing to this Court, Zamantakis has presented only the question whether the Commission committed an error of law by going beyond the scope of its statutory authority in awarding compensatory damages to the Thorntons in the stated sums for 'mental anguish and humiliation'. Zamantakis has not appealed from the findings and conclusions of the Commission that Zamantakis committed an unlawful discriminatory practice in violation of the Act.

The facts are not in dispute. Zamantakis owned and operated an apartment house, and advertised in a local newspaper for the rental of a four-room apartment as follows:

'FOLK ST.--4 rooms and bath, air conditioning, wall-to-wall carpeting, $130 plus utilities. Adults. 252--3836.'

Without going into any great detail, we need only say that the record supports the Commission's findings that Zamantakis refused to rent the advertised apartment to the Thorntons because of their race and sex. Among the 22 findings of fact by the Commission, No. 17 is pertinent to this Opinion, and it reads as follows:

'17. Realizing that they were being denied the opportunity to rent the apartment in question in part at least because of their race, the Thorntons felt humiliated. Mr. Willis Thornton, who had recently returned from Vietnam, was, in fact, quite upset to find that the freedom for which he had fought was being denied him here in the United States.'

In the Commission's conclusions of law, we find:

'3. The Complainants, Sylvester and Willis Thornton, are each entitled to receive compensation from the Respondents for the mental anguish and humiliation which they experienced as the result of the discriminatory treatment inflicted upon them.'

The two paragraphs of the Commission's Order which are before us read as follows:

'2. That the Respondents, George Zamantakis and Bessie Zamantakis pay to each of the Complainants the sum of $250.00 in order to compensate them for the mental anguish and humiliation which they experienced as a result of the Respondents' unlawful discriminatory practices.'

'3. Payment of the above amount shall be paid by the Respondents George Zamantakis and Bessie Zamantakis, within 30 days from the date of this Order with interest to accumulate at the rate of 6 per cent per annum in the event said sum is not paid during this period.'

As stated in the Act (43 P.S. § 960), our scope of review is governed by the Administrative Agency Law, Act of June 4, 1945, P.L. 1388, as amended, 71 P.S. § 1710.1 et seq. whereby we are to determine whether the Commission's adjudication 'is not in accordance with law' or whether 'any finding of fact made by the agency and necessary to support its adjudication is not supported by substantial evidence'. See also Wilkinsburg School District v. Human Relations Commission, 6 Pa.Cmwlth. 378, 295 A.2d 609 (1972); Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. Chester School District, 209 Pa.Super. 37, 224 A.2d 811 (1966). [3] In view of the fact that Zamantakis has raised only the question of whether the Commission has exceeded its statutory authority in the awarding of compensatory damages, for the purpose of disposition, we need not look to the record to determine whether or not the Commission abused its discretion in its findings of fact.

In support of its contention that it has the statutory power to order compensatory damages, the Commission points to Section 9 of the Act, 43 P.S. § 959. That section reads as follows:

'If, upon all the evidence at the hearing, the Commission shall find that a respondent has engaged in or is engaging in any unlawful discriminatory practice as defined in this act, The Commission shall state its findings of fact, and Shall issue and cause to be served on such respondent An order requiring such respondent to cease and desist from such unlawful discriminatory practice and To take such affirmative action including but not limited to . . . leasing specified commercial housing upon such equal terms and conditions and with such equal facilities, services and privileges . . . to any person discriminated against or all persons As, in the judgment of the Commission, will effectuate the purposes of this act . . ..

The Commission shall establish rules or practice to govern, expedite and effectuate the foregoing procedure and its own actions thereunder.' (Emphasis added).

The Commission contends that Section 9 authorizes it to take 'affirmative action'. As we read that section, the Legislature authorized the Commission to order the 'respondent . . . to take such affirmative action'. We believe that there is a real difference here. If we could find in the statute authority in the Commission to ascertain damages, or even to impose punitive or compensatory damages upon a respondent, then we could uphold the Commission's contention that it could order respondent to pay such damages as affirmative action. However, absent such legislative language or clear intent, the Commission may order a respondent only to take such affirmative action as guided by the statute, e.g., the leasing of an apartment to the complainant upon equal terms and conditions. The missing link in the Commission's argument is the absence of any specific legislative authority to ascertain, and hence to award, damages.

A reading of the declarations of policy found in the Act, 43 P.S. §§ 952 and 953, indicates that the legislative purpose is to provide and foster equal opportunity for all persons to (among other things) lease an available dwelling place regardless of his or her race, color, religion, creed, ancestry or sex. Also included within the protected class are persons who use guide dogs because of blindness. The Commission's zeal to utilize effective methods of enforcing its orders so as to accomplish the declared policy of this Commonwealth is commendable. The problem, however, is that the Commission, as a regulatory agency, cannot go beyond the powers given it by the Legislature. As the Court said in the case of Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. Brucker, 93 Dauph. 8, 17, 51 Pa.D. & C.2d 369, 381 (1970):

'It is well settled that an administrative body such as the Human Relations Commission is exercising powers delegated to it by the Legislature, and that it is limited in its powers to those granted. In re Pesognelli's Restaurant Liquor License, 191 Pa.Super. 320, 156 A.2d 540 (1959); Sanitary Water Board v. Glen Alden Corporation, 83 Dauphin 108 (1964). It is equally well settled that courts should not interfere with the actions of governmental bodies or administrative tribunals in absence of an abuse of power. See Goodman Appeal, 425 Pa. 23, 227 A.2d 816 (1967). These principles of law are to be applied in reviewing actions of the Human Relations Commission. See Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. Chester School District, 85 Dauphin 18, 40 D&C 2d 493 (1966), affirmed in 209 Pa.Super. 37, 224 A.2d 811 (1966), and modified in 427 Pa. 157, 233 A.2d 290 (1967).'

The Court later said:

'The Legislature may grant tribunals broad discretion in the application of standards, but these standards must be limited in scope by provisions in the statute. Pesognelli's Liquor Case, supra.' 93 Dauph. at 18, 51 Pa.D. & C.2d at 382.

We fully recognize that our Supreme Court in the cases of Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. Alto-Reste Park Cemetery Association, Pa., 306 A.2d 881 (1973) and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission v. Chester School District, 427 Pa. 157, 233 A.2d 290 (1967) laid down the principle that the Commission should be given broad discretionary power to make its orders effective. A careful reading of those cases, however, does not permit us to extend the discretionary power of the Commission beyond that authorized by the Legislature. The Chester School District case highlights the problems presented by this case. The deprivation of an equal opportunity to education also creates mental anguish in minority students, and the damages could be infinitely greater than the possible damages resulting from a discriminatory refusal of a lease. If the Commission's position is upheld here, could it order a school district to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in compensatory damages to each of the thousands of minority students in the Chester School District? We can find no such statutory authority.

Our reading of Section 9 of the Act, 43 P.S. § 959, leads us to conclude that the Legislature has authorized the Commission to issue a cease and desist order...

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