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Finish Lines: Morgan Williams

Lawyer Morgan Williams is assistant chief counsel to The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. She provides legal assistance to the commission’s investigative staff, educates the public and prosecutes violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act,  which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, commercial property, education and public accommodations. www.phrc.pa.gov.

What drew you to your position? Civil rights have always been important to me. Pennsylvania was one of the first states in our nation to enact legislation prohibiting discrimination and it remains one of the largest.  I wanted to use my law degree to make a difference in people’s lives and to do my part to ensure that everyone has the right to live where they want and obtain employment that will allow them to reach their full potential.

What sorts of complaints do you handle?
I primarily litigate cases involving housing and employment discrimination. A large majority of these cases involve discrimination against an individual with a disability. An example of this type might be a landlord’s refusal to allow a support or service animal under the mistaken belief it could be prohibited by a “no pet policy.”  An example of discrimination in employment would be an employer who fails to make reasonable accommodations to allow an employee to perform the functions of his or her job.

Do cases you work surprise/disturb you? Unfortunately, yes. There are still employers in Pennsylvania who will discharge an employee after learning she is pregnant; there are still incidences where nooses are found hanging in workplaces; and there are landlords failing to rent to people because of their race or because of the presence of “too many” children in the home.  The effect of such discriminatory practices on these individuals is profound and it should never stop disturbing us.    

tell us about a gratifying case. I prosecuted a case last year involving a veteran with more than 20 years military service who was diagnosed with PTSD. He needed an accommodation to continue to do his job. The employer refused to grant him the accommodation and instead terminated him. The trial of the case resulted in an order in favor of this veteran.  The commission ordered his employer to pay him more than $120,000 in back pay and related expenses and he will continue to receive compensation to bring his income to what he would have earned had he not been unlawfully terminated for a period of two years. 

What has your job taught you about Pennsylvanians? The people in Pennsylvania, like people everywhere, are generally good and sometimes imperfect. The parties who file at the commission, and the parties who have cases filed here against them, are no different. It is an honor to serve the citizens of the Commonwealth.