In a ceremonial signing on June 22, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed a new municipal bill giving the City of Philadelphia authority to temporarily close businesses found to have repeatedly violated the City’s anti-discrimination statutes. The new bill, which amends the City’s Fair Practices Ordinance, states that the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations may, “upon a finding that [an employer] has engaged in severe or repeated violations without effective efforts to remediate the violations, order that the [employer] cease its business operations in the City for a specified period of time.” The bill, which went into effect immediately, does not state how long a business may be closed. Nor does it define “severe or repeated violations” or clarify what constitutes “effective efforts to remediate.”
Although it is too early to tell just how this bill will affect Philadelphia employers, the bill leaves employers in the dark on several aspects, most notably on how this bill will be enforced and what constitutes a violation. Further, Philadelphia, like many cities across the country, has a broader definition of discrimination than employers may be accustomed to under Title VII. Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance defines discrimination as follows:
Any direct or indirect practice of exclusion, distinction, restriction, segregation, limitation, refusal, denial, differentiation or preference in the treatment of a person on the basis of actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, marital status, source of income, familial status, genetic information or domestic or sexual violence victim status, or other act or practice made unlawful under this Chapter or under the nondiscrimination laws of the United States or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Thus, employers operating in Philadelphia must be mindful, not only of the broader scope of the City’s discrimination statutes, but also of the expansive enforcement provisions that could result from “severe or repeated violations without effective efforts to mediate.”