On March 24, 2011, Mayor Nutter signed legislation amending the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation. The amendments to the Ordinance, which take effect on June 22, 2011, create new protected classes, clarify and reorganize the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations’ procedures, expand the remedies available to complainants and strengthen the Commission’s enforcement authority. The amendments also expand the definition of “employer” to include any person who does business in Philadelphia through employees, any public agency or authority, and any agency, authority or instrumentality of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The new classes recognized as protected under the Ordinance are familial status, genetic information, and domestic or sexual violence victim status. Familial status protects individuals who are or become the provider of care or support to a family member, including spouses, life partners, parents, grandparents, siblings, in-laws, children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews. The definition of “family members” includes adoptive and other dependent or custodial relationships. “Genetic information” is defined to include information about an individual’s genetic tests, genetic tests of family members, and the manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members. Victims of domestic or sexual violence also are protected from discrimination.
Additional key changes include:
- Prohibiting discrimination on the basis of perceived membership in a protected class;
- Prohibiting harassment, threats, harm, damage, or retaliation because an individual complied with, exercised rights under or enjoyed the benefits of the Ordinance;
- Increasing penalties for discrimination from $300 to $2,000 per violation;
- Expanding the authority of the Commission to order, subject to judicial review, remedies including:
– Issuing cease and desist letters;
– Ordering injunctive or other equitable relief;
– Ordering payment of compensatory damages;
– Ordering payment of punitive damages, not to exceed $2,000 per violation;
– Ordering payment of reasonable attorneys’ fees; and
– Ordering payment of hearing costs incurred by the Commission.
Because the Commission’s enforcement authority has been expanded and strengthened, employers may see an increase in the number of complaints filed with the agency. In particular, the expanded remedies may result in an increase in claims alleging discrimination based on classes not explicitly protected by state and federal laws such as sexual orientation, as well as the new protected classes. Employers should begin reviewing and updating their policies prohibiting discrimination to ensure compliance with these new protections.