Disability rights clinic on Friday at PCHR offices

As we spend this year commemorating the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking American with Disabilities Act, we cannot forget the types of protections it helps to ensure. That’s why on Friday, PCHR will partner with the Public Interest Law Center to present a FREE clinic on disability rights.

If you live with a disability, or help someone who does, it’s a great opportunity to get the ins and outs of what you should expect from employers, access to public services and more. Equally important, you’ll be able to leave with a strategy in case you’re encountering behavior that’s less than acceptable.

Check it out, from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday at our offices at the Curtis Center, 601 Walnut Street, Third Floor South.

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PCHR responds to call for updated statewide nondiscrimination law

PHILADELPHIA – PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau responds to the rising debate regarding the need for an updated nondiscrimination law in Pennsylvania. Democratic and Republican lawmakers recently introduced Senate Bill 974 and House Bill 1510 — together, known as the Pennsylvania Fairness Act — in the General Assembly.

“Despite marriage equality being the law of the land – first through the 2014 Whitewood decision, then affirmed nationally by the U.S. Supreme Court in June – LGBT residents and visitors can still suffer discrimination across the commonwealth. People can be denied services, evicted or fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity without penalties across much of Pennsylvania.

“Philadelphia is one of the few areas where comprehensive protections barring LGBT discrimination exists – a practice that should be in place in every municipality, Landau says.

“For decades, Philadelphia has recognized that strong nondiscrimination laws protecting everyone – including LGBT residents and visitors – make economic sense. They allow businesses to attract more dollars, broaden their workforce and build our tax base as a result. We understand that the best and brightest can come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Philadelphia has continued to lead in this area. Now Pennsylvania must follow.

“Passing comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation would give us hope that all Pennsylvanians will be protected, be it in the streets or in the workplace. Whatever law eventually passes in Harrisburg must preserve the rights of cities like Philadelphia to be at the cutting edge of addressing discrimination, and should emulate our efforts. Only then would we see our commonwealth finally live up to its credo – virtue, liberty and independence.”

ADA 25 in Philly

PCHR joined hundreds from across the city and region on Saturday to commemorate a special independence day — marking the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

From a resource fair in the courtyard at City Hall to an expansive disability pride march through Center City to stirring speeches, those gathered came to both celebrate achievement and outline the challenges that remain. PCHR aids in protecting the rights of those with disabilities through the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, helping to prevent discrimination in housing, property, employment and public accommodations.

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Among the organizers of the day’s festivities was PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle, who also heads Liberty Resources Inc., a leader in disability rights and advocacy work in Pennsylvania.

Appeals block PCHR, disabled, from clear fair rules on emotional support animals

PHILADELPHIA, July 23, 2015 – At the cusp of celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, countless residents remain in limbo awaiting final outcome in a potentially precedent-setting case for the agency on whether reasonable housing accommodations include not just service animals but also assistance animals.

A 2014 decision by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations stands to open a new dimension for people with disabilities, but it remains mired in legal fights, despite having survived an initial appeal in the Court of Common Pleas.

“As our understanding of the needs of people with disabilities expands, it is clear that many people simply need small accommodations in order to live independently,” said PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau. “The commissioners’ decision in this case was right and just and fell squarely in line with the Fair Housing Act and HUD’s guidelines.  Unnecessary appeals simply delay justice and equal opportunity to housing for people with disabilities.” plott_hound

In Rubin v. Kennedy House Inc., PCHR ruled that assistance animals deemed therapeutic for people with disabilities are not subject to standard no-pet policies. In fact, they are as viable as traditional service animals that assist those with physical impairments such as blindness or epilepsy.

The case stemmed from an incident involving Jan Rubin, a would-be member at the Kennedy House Inc., a housing co-op. Because her dog, Mira, was not formally trained, the managers considered it a pet, and the housing complex has a no-dog policy. Rubin argued that Mira was a support animal, one that aids in her daily routine and helps to lessen the effects of medical ailments that have compromised her mobility and quality of life.

The Court of Common Pleas agreed. Kennedy House has now filed a second appeal, this time in Commonwealth Court.

At stake is clarification of the rules for city residents and housing providers. PCHR followed guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on assistance animals that address a segment of society that’s growing ever-reliant on this means of therapy. Whether it’s due to arthritis or autism, panic attacks or post-traumatic stress disorder, increasing numbers of Americans are turning to animals to help center them and allow them to better cope in the world.

Since enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, perspectives on accommodations and definitions of disabilities have continued to evolve. PCHR’s ruling is another example of that evolution.

“Not all disabilities are visible,” said PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle. “It’s easy to see someone with a wheelchair or a mobility device. But we also have people with autism, intellectual disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. These are disabilities as well. And the law is broadly written so that they, too, can be protected.”

Read the PCHR ruling on Jan Rubin v. Kennedy House, Inc..

U.S. Supreme Court wraps eventful, historic term

The latest term of the U.S. Supreme Court sliced through a host of complicated cases, but what emerged for progressive advocates affirmed and reinvigorated their efforts to ensure justice and equality under the law.

Without doubt, 2015 will go down in history for decisions that stand to have generational impact. Arguably, the affirmation of the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – will mark a watershed moment, as did the implementation of Social Security and Medicaid decades before.

But with rulings preserving the goals of the nation’s fair housing laws and establishing marriage equality as the law of the land, the Supreme Court also offered clear marching orders for agencies such as PCHR.

“With last week’s prudent U.S .Supreme Court rulings, all Americans inclusively gained access to the fundamental rights of fair housing, healthcare, and same sex marriage,” said PCHR Chairman Thomas H. Earle. “It was a powerful set of outcomes for people who often had been left powerless in our society.”

Advocates cheer U.S. Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

Advocates cheer U.S. Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

From the court’s marble steps on First Street NE in Washington, D.C. to town squares across the country, reactions to the rulings were as euphoric as they were spontaneous – and colorful. Obamacare proponents could be seen waving brightly colored placards while marriage equality supporters waved rainbow flags.

The lawn of the National Constitution Center filled with supporters along with an array of notable speakers, including Mayor Michael A. Nutter, ACLU of PA Executive Director Reggie Shuford, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Human Rights Campaign’s Christopher Labonte and the Rev. Jeff Haskins of the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church, among others.

Obergefell v. Hodges – and the three related cases bundled with it – proclaimed that the protection of marriage’s rights and privileges among wedded same-sex couples could not be denied in any state. A marriage in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania must be recognized in Alabama or Texas.

The ruling on marriage equality both elicited joy and set the stage for the next civil rights battle for LGBTQ advocates and their allies. While Philadelphia has nondiscrimination policies, in communities across the Commonwealth, someone legally could be fired or evicted on the basis of LGBTQ bias. Until Pennsylvania adopts a nondiscrimination law, that specter will hang like a gloom cloud over even the sunniest wedding and honeymoon memories.

The White House lit up in celebration of marriage equality.

The White House lit up in celebration of marriage equality.

That was a point emphasized at rallies that arose in the wake of the decision.

“Today we celebrate – and recommit to the hard work in front of us,” said Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center. “That’s to fight discrimination, to insure trans equity, and to insure safe schools for LGBT students.”

And while not as heavily publicized as the other cases, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project stands to have an equally sizable impact.

At issue was the interpretation and application of the Fair Housing Act, specifically its call making it illegal to refuse to rent, sell or otherwise block the rental or sale of a property to someone based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The concern in this case, and others like it elsewhere was “disparate impact” – that a law or policy has a discriminatory effect, even if unintended.

In Texas, there were claims that state and local governments were violating the spirit of the Fair Housing Act by perpetuating segregation, and using federal housing dollars to do it. Under the ruling, subsidized housing cannot solely be placed in isolated, impoverished areas when the goals are to integrate areas and open access to better jobs and schools to the underserved.

Tax-funded housing projects must consider disparate impact, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tax-funded housing projects must consider disparate impact, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling helped chip away at the negative legacy of redlining and other discriminatory policies of the past that continue to shackle too many.  In an age of urban revitalization and tensions spawned by gentrification, the Supreme Court cast an important perspective on both public accommodation and fair housing for communities nationwide.

“As the largest poor city in America, this decision impacts us greatly regarding the effects of development on communities of color in Philadelphia,” PCHR’s Landau said.

“Philadelphia is continuing to go through vast changes and development, this decision reinforces the notion that we must slow down and look at the impact development will have on our communities.”

Another term down, and other high-profile cases wait in the wings. In the meantime, there is plenty to absorb and put into action. As always, PCHR stands ready to help ensure justice and equality reign supreme.

PCHR reacts to SCOTUS marriage equality ruling

PHILADELPHIA, June 26 — Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations Executive Director Rue Landau issued the following statement on today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, which enshrines a significant civil right:
“We are thrilled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision for marriage equality.  This decision is the first step in ending the unequal patchwork of laws protecting the LGBT community that had been created across the country.  Now, all marriages will be recognized as equal, regardless of who you love or where you live in America.  
 
“While we celebrate this decision today, we must get back to work tomorrow to continue the fight for essential nondiscrimination laws in our own state, as well as the rest of the country.  
 
“It’s been 50 years since the first national protest for gay rights occurred in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall and Philadelphia’s lawmakers were among the first to get the message.  We have had laws protecting people based on sexual orientation and gender identity for decades, and it has made us a safer, healthier and stronger community. Now is the time for Pennsylvania and all other states to follow suit.”

Image courtesy of VisitPhilly

Image courtesy of VisitPhilly

PCHR reacts to S.C. massacre

PHILADELPHIA — PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau reacted to last night’s massacre at a Charleston, S.C., where nine men and women were murdered inside Mother Emanuel AME Church:

“Any act of violence is despicable, but the degree to which this suspect in Charleston, S.C. inflicted violence, pain, and apparently, hatred, on innocent men and women inside their church praying is horrifying. It should horrify every American who believes in peace and freedom.

“The African Methodist Episcopal movement, founded in Philadelphia, has a long history of pursuing and advocating for those goals, both here and abroad. This man attempted to shred our human bonds. Good people across this nation will ensure he is not successful in those efforts, starting with the authorities who worked tirelessly and swiftly to apprehend him.

“Today, we stand with those grieving the victims. And we support and invite the public to join efforts for healing, including the interfaith service at 7 p.m. tonight at Mother Bethel AME Church, led by the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler.”