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Pittsburgh, Erie, Johnstown… You have an Employment case but where do you go with it?

The Situation:Where do we go.

Our attorneys have met with the client, who lives in Pittsburgh but works in Butler. They have conducted a full review of the case and have determined that the client was the victim of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, or retaliation. The client has made the decision to fight for their employment rights. At that point, the question typically asked is “Where do we go from here?” Do we file a complaint in Pittsburgh (Allegheny County) or in Butler County.

There are several state and federal statutes designed to protect employees from employment discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation. There is often a significant overlap between the state and federal statutes.

State Statutes.

Most Pennsylvania state employment statutes require the employee to file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (the “PHRC”) before filing suit in state court. If the matter is not resolved in an administrative proceeding before the PHRC (and they rarely are) you will have to file suit in state court.

The PHRC office in western Pennsylvania is located in Pittsburgh (Allegheny County).

If you file in state court, suit will most likely be filed in the county where you, the employee, lives. If you live in western Pennsylvania that can mean Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Mercer, Somerset, Venango, Warren, Washington, or Westmoreland counties.

For those state statutes that do not require that a Complaint be filed with the PHRC, you will file your complaint directly with the state court in the county where you reside.

Federal Statutes.

Most federal employment statutes also require that a complaint be filed with a federal agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the U.S. Department of Labor, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) before filing suit in federal court.

For cases in western Pennsylvania, the EEOC office (where most employment discrimination and harassment cases are filed) is located in Pittsburgh. If the matter is not resolved in an administrative proceeding before the EEOC, you have to file suit in federal court.

If you file under a federal statute, you will file in the federal court in either Pittsburgh (Allegheny County), Erie (Erie County) or Johnstown (Cambria County).

(Be careful, because under state or federal law there are a number of deadlines that have to be strictly followed or your claim will be dismissed.)

The location of the court or administrative agency should be of no real concern to the employee with a claim of employment discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation. Personal inconvenience and travel expenses are kept to a minimum by court rules. While hearings, if any, will be conducted in the administrative offices (Pittsburgh / Allegheny County) or the counties (Beaver, Butler, Lawrence, etc.) most of the activity on your case will be handled by your attorney by mail, electronic mail, telephone, or electronic filing. Depositions, if required, will generally be conducted in the county where the case is filed and may even be conducted by video conferencing (for example, Skype). Courts now frequently conduct conferences by telephone, thereby containing the cost and inconvenience of litigation.

At Murtagh, Hobaugh & Cech, we represent employees in matters involving employment discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation. We know what you need, what you are entitled to, and how to get it.

Murtagh, Hobaugh & Cech: “The help you need…”


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Whistleblower Actions May Become More Difficult in the Financial Industry.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided to review whether a whistleblower in the financial industry could file suit against an employer for discrimination or retaliation even though he had not first reported the employer to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) as seemingly required by the Dodd-Frank Act. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals says that reporting to the SEC is a prerequisite to an action under Dodd-Frank. The Second and Ninth Circuit says that it isn’t.

Some basics:

While there are a number of different statutes designed to protect whistleblowers, in the financial / business world there are two primary statutes: the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Dodd-Frank Act.

The two laws are very similar as regards whistleblowing but there are differences which make filing suit under the Dodd-Frank Act the preferred course of action. For one, Sarbanes-Oxley requires that an administrative complaint must be filed within 180 days (a very small window of opportunity) or the claim will be lost. Dodd-Frank allows between 3 and 10 years to bring an action, but the wording of Dodd-Frank suggests that you cannot file suit under the Dodd-Frank Act if you haven’t first reported the employer to the SEC.

Here’s the situation:.

An employee discovers that several co-workers are falsifying financial information in order to increase their commissions. He immediately reports what he knows to his supervisor. A week later, his employment is terminated. Under a strict reading of Dodd-Frank, the employee cannot file a whistleblower suit because he hadn’t reported the employer to the SEC before he was fired.
Until this issue is resolved by the Supreme Court, remember that time is of the essence (180 days under Sarbanes-Oxley). If you think that you have been retaliated against for whistleblowing, seek qualified legal assistance from a law firm that knows the ins and outs of the law.

At Murtagh, Hobaugh & Cech, we have dealt with these issues in representing employees for years. We know what you need, what you are entitled to, and how to get it.

Murtagh, Hobaugh & Cech: “The help you need…”