Learn about the history and accomplishments of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.
Philadelphia becomes the first city in the United States to include a provision for a human relations agency in its Home Rule Charter. That year, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations is born and assumes the powers and duties of the former, more limited Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC).
The FEPC, formed in 1948, had combated prejudice and discrimination in employment based upon race, color, religion, or national origin.
PCHR’s founding commissioners are:
- Robert J. Callaghan, Esq. (Chairperson)
- Sadie T. M. Alexander, Esq.
- Francis J. Coyle
- Nathan L. Edelstein, Esq.
- Elizabeth H. Fetter
- James H. Jones
- Albert J. Nesbitt
- Lawrence M.C. Smith
- Leon C. Sunstein, Sr.
George Schermer becomes the executive director shortly thereafter.
The commission begins combating discrimination by issuing a publication, Philadelphia Negro Population Facts on Housing, and working with the Philadelphia Housing Authority to integrate public housing by admitting African Americans to exclusively white housing projects.
In response to violent incidents against Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia’s Spring Garden neighborhood, the commission issues a report, Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia, to highlight the challenges faced by the Spanish-speaking community.
PCHR continues its efforts to reduce restrictive housing practices by issuing What to Do: A Program for Leaders in Changing Neighborhoods.
PCHR develops a comprehensive training program for the Philadelphia Police Department.
Sadie T.M. Alexander becomes the chairperson of the commission. Her tenure continues until 1968.
PCHR holds public hearings and investigates labor unions for excluding African American workers. The commission finds widespread membership discrimination and negotiates settlements.
City Council passes the Fair Practices Ordinance, replacing the more restrictive Fair Employment Practices Ordinance.
Civil disturbances erupt in North Philadelphia. PCHR calls together community leaders in an emergency meeting at Emmanuel Baptist Church. They march to end the rioting. The efforts of PCHR shorten the disturbance and quicken the pace of reconciliation. PCHR North Philadelphia Field Office is established.
Young African Americans, led by Cecil B. Moore (leader of the local branch of the NAACP) and Georgie Woods (of radio station WDAS) picket Girard College, a boarding school for white fatherless boys. Mayor Tate asks PCHR Chair Sadie Alexander to intervene between the picketers and the school’s trustees. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Girard College must admit African American boys.
Clarence Farmer becomes the executive director of PCHR.
Protests by African Americans, seeking greater input in their schools, are met by police force in November 1967. Clarence Farmer steps in to negotiate with both sides to end the violence.
PCHR launches a Helpmobile, a City Hall on wheels. The Helpmobile makes tours during the summer months of inner-city neighborhoods and distributes information on the services of PCHR.
On the day following the assassination of Martin Luther King, April 6, 1968, Clarence Farmer organizes a memorial march and rally at Independence Mall.
Clarence Farmer brings African American radicals to the table with liberal moderates like Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., William Coleman, Esq., and Robert N.C. Nix, Jr., and white civic leaders like Philadelphia Savings Fund Society’s R. Stewart Rauch, Jr. and Wanamaker’s Richard C. Bond. The effort led to the creation of the Black Coalition.
PCHR addresses the problem of blockbusting, the practice by which real estate agents and speculators induce panic selling by white homeowners fearful that an influx of minority purchasers will decrease property values.
PCHR strengthens its service to the City’s Spanish-speaking neighborhoods by providing interpretation services and preparing Spanish-language literature for residents and media.
Prohibitions on discrimination based on sex are added to the Fair Practices Ordinance.
Housing and public accommodation provisions, as well as provisions that protect the rights of disabled persons, are added to an expanded Fair Practices Ordinance.
PCHR creates a Dispute Resolution Program to help neighbors resolve disputes.
Clarence Farmer negotiates, at various times, between the police and MOVE members.
Violence in Kensington erupts between whites and Latinos and in Southwest Philadelphia between whites and African Americans. Commission staff work with neighborhood church groups, public agencies, and community organizations to calm tensions.
Marital status, source of income, age, and the presence of children are added to the housing provisions of the Fair Practices Ordinance.
Sexual orientation, disability, and discrimination in employment based on age over 40 are added to the Fair Practices Ordinance.
PCHR holds four public hearings concerning the problems of Asian immigrants in Philadelphia. Following the hearings, PCHR issues a report, Asians and their Neighbors, and a subsequent report, Race Relations in Philadelphia.
PCHR begins accepting complaints of discrimination in the delivery of City services.
The City Solicitor defines AIDS as a disability under the Fair Practices Ordinance and Mayor’s Executive Order 4-86 is issued prohibiting discrimination based on AIDS in the delivery of City services.
The commission issues a report, The State of Intergroup Harmony Race Relations in Philadelphia: A 1989 Perspective—A 1990 Opportunity.
After mounting tension and concerns in the Latino community, PCHR holds public hearings and issues a report to the Mayor titled Report on Public Hearings Regarding Concerns of the Philadelphia Latino Community and a report The State of Intergroup Harmony.
Philadelphia and the commission host the 43rd Annual Conference of the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA).
PCHR organizes conferences on fair lending laws in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The conferences begin a continuing dialogue between community groups and lenders about mortgage and community development issues.
PCHR issues studies on mortgage lending patterns and practices in Philadelphia and low-income community credit needs.
PCHR begins providing staff for the City’s Fair Housing Commission (FHC), which deals with complaints of landlords engaging in unfair rental practices.
PCHR joins with the Women’s Law Project to end the exclusion of pregnant women from drug treatment programs.
PCHR blocks the Rev. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam from holding a males-only rally at the Civic Center. The meeting proceeds, open to all.
PCHR initiates the Interagency Civil Rights Task Force made up of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
In collaboration with the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies and the Fielding Institute of California, PCHR institutes a neighborhood-based project called Focus Philadelphia, using video technology to create a better understanding of diverse communities.
The statute of limitations under the Fair Practices Ordinance increases from 90 days to 300 days.
Acts of ethnic intimidation directed at African American renters in white neighborhoods in Bridesburg and Grays Ferry generate calls for peace and efforts by PCHR to support the victims.
Historic life partnership provisions are added to the Fair Practices Ordinance for registration of same-sex domestic partners and eligibility for benefits for life partners of City employees.
PCHR convenes a public investigatory hearing and issues a report on Race and the Criminal Justice System.
In the aftermath of the tragic attack on September 11, PCHR moves forward to establish a dialogue with law enforcement, criminal justice, and social services agencies to promote understanding of the culture, customs, and concerns of the Arab, Sikh, and Muslim communities.
Gender identity is added to Fair Practices Ordinance as a protected class.
PCHR and the Center City Proprietors Association present Forging Alliances, an initiative that encourages dialogue among the City’s small and minority businesses and associations.
PCHR holds a public investigatory hearing for providers of services to immigrants and refugees.
PCHR raises awareness of the linguistic burdens of immigrants in its claim against Joey Vento, whose establishment bore a “Speak English” sign. A split panel of PCHR concludes that this sign did not convey the message that service would be denied to non-English speakers.
A Prayer Vigil for a Restored Civility is held following the fatal shooting of Philadelphia Police Officer Charles “Chuck” Cassidy.
City Council passes Entitlement to Leave Due to Domestic or Sexual Violence, an amendment to the Fair Practices Ordinance that requires employers to provide unpaid leave to victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking, or the family or household member of a victim.
Following the attack on 26 Asian immigrant students at South Philadelphia High School, PCHR arranges face-to-face meetings between the students and the administration of the School District of Philadelphia as part of an effort to end the boycott and resolve the students’ grievances.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) honors PCHR as a Champion of Equal Opportunity.
PCHR conducts a yearlong series of eleven public hearings to hear from the community on issues relating to intergroup tension and violence in the City’s public schools.
Based on the testimony of 130 witnesses and 40 written submissions received during its public hearings in 2010, PCHR issues Widening the Circle of Our Concern: Public Perceptions of the School District of Philadelphia’s Response to Intergroup Conflicts.
The Fair Practices Ordinance is overhauled with landmark legislation intended to increase remedies and penalties, streamline procedures, and add genetic information, domestic or sexual violence victim status, or familial status as protected categories.
PCHR is named the enforcing authority for the City’s new Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards, commonly referred to as “Ban the Box.”
The Equal Benefits Ordinance requires services contractors in Philadelphia to extend the same employment benefits that a contractor extends to spouses of its employees to life partners of its employees.
All prior regulations promulgated by the commission are rescinded. Six newly promulgated regulations for the enforcement of the Fair Practices Ordinance and the Home Rule Charter become effective.
Mediation services are created as part of PCHR Community Resolutions Division (CRD) Dispute Resolution Program.
New provisions are added to the Fair Practices Ordinance, including a first-ever tax credit for companies that offer benefits to the life partners of their employees, children of the life partners, and health coverage specific to transgender employees.
A Housing Discrimination Resolution calls for joint committee hearings to explore methods of detecting and mitigating forms of subtle discrimination that create barriers to minority renters and homebuyers.
PCHR launches a Changing Neighborhoods Project to promote neighbor conversation and conflict resolution during times of change.
PCHR launches an (e)Quality Housing Working Group to deal with poor housing quality, discrimination, and equal access to housing in the city.
More expansive protections to accommodate pregnant workers and newly returning breastfeeding mothers are added to the Fair Practices Ordinance.
The City’s Ethnic Intimidation Ordinance is amended, adding a section entitled “Hate Crimes” to provide for penalties for criminal conduct motivated by hatred towards certain categories of people.
New provisions to the Fair Criminal Records Screening Standards (“Ban the Box Law”) go into effect. PCHR is designated to enforce the law.
New provisions are added to the Fair Practices Ordinance prohibiting employers from obtaining or using credit reports regarding employees or job applicants, under certain terms and conditions
A public hearing and report are released on Racism in the LGBTQ Community.
Mayor Kenney signs the Philadelphia Wage Equity Ordinance, a law intended to prevent discrimination and ensure equal pay for women and minorities. Implementation of the law is delayed by legal challenges.
The Cease and Desist Amendment is added to the Fair Practices Ordinance, authorizing PCHR to order a business to cease operations as a remedial measure if found to be discriminatory.
A resolution authorizes the Committee on Legislative Oversight to hold hearings examining racial disparities in home lending, also known as “redlining.”
The Philadelphia Code is amended to increase penalties for certain acts of ethnic intimidation and institutional vandalism.
PCHR partners with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office to announce the City’s new Hate Crimes Task Force.
The Fair Chance Hiring law is amended to prohibit consideration of an applicant’s juvenile records at any stage of the employment or licensing process.
PCHR completes the Starbucks Report, which includes PCHR’s insights and recommendations following an incident investigation. PCHR subsequently creates Best Practice Guidelines for Places of Public Accommodations.
A marketing campaign for Fair Chance Hiring Law disseminates messaging about the City’s Fair Chance Hiring law through print, online, SEPTA display advertising, radio spots, and “know your rights and responsibilities” distribution materials.
A resolution passes encouraging local colleges and universities to apply Fair Chance Hiring standards to college applications.
The Mayor signs two bills into law to replace gendered marital signifiers “husband,” “wife,” “widow,” and “widower” in tax provisions with the non-gendered term “spouse.”
Good Cause Protections are added to the Fair Housing Ordinance, preventing an owner or landlord from issuing a lease termination notice without first showing a “good cause.”
The Cashless Retail Ordinance prohibits retail establishments from refusing to accept cash as a form of payment.
The Lead Paint Law is amended, removing the potentially discriminatory age requirement that made lead safe certification only necessary for families with children under seven years of age.
The amended Hate Crimes Ordinance increases the scope of crimes eligible to be addressed as “hate crimes.” It expands the definition of hate-motivated criminal conduct to include attacks on others based on age, ethnicity, color, race, religion, or national origin.
The Fair Practices Ordinance is amended by adding a new section providing protections for Domestic Workers.
The amended Fair Practices Ordinance includes updated definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity. A new section is added to require organizations serving youth to adopt policies for non-discriminatory treatment of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth.
After surviving a first amendment legal challenge, the Wage Equity Law goes into effect almost 3 years after its enactment in 2017. The Wage Equity Law, enforced by PCHR, seeks to address the disparity in the pay of women and minorities by prohibiting employers, employment agencies, or their agents from inquiring about or relying upon past wages during the application process.
The Fair Practice Ordinance (FPO) is amended in October 2020 to clarify that unlawful discrimination includes discrimination based on hairstyle or hair texture was clarified as unlawful discrimination.
In November 2020, the Fair Criminal Records Screening Standards Ordinance is amended to expand protections for current employees and broadened the definition of employee to include gig workers.
In December 2020, protections to homeowners are strengthened under the Fair Practice Ordinance by the creation of “Wholesaler Legislation.” This legislation regulates the solicitation of purchases of real property by “Residential Property Wholesalers” by creating a Do Not Solicit List, requiring wholesalers to obtain licenses from Licenses and Inspections (L&I), and requiring Property Wholesalers to abide by a code of conduct which includes providing disclosures under certain terms and conditions to homeowners with whom they seek to do business.