Philadelphia employers should ensure that they are in compliance with the expanded discrimination and retaliation provisions of the City’s amended Fair Practices Ordinance, signed into law on March 24, 2011, by Mayor Michael Nutter. Effective June 22, 2011, the amended Ordinance will prohibit, for the first time, employment discrimination on the basis of familial status, genetic information, and domestic or sexual violence victim status. (Click here for a prior legal alert written on the City’s Fair Practices Ordinance.) The Ordinance already prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, and marital status.

With respect to discrimination on the basis of familial status, the Ordinance now protects persons who currently are or are becoming a provider of care or support to family members, including those who are pregnant or in the process of securing legal custody of an individual under age 18. The Ordinance defines “family member” broadly to include life partners, as well as extended family such as grandchildren and nieces or nephews. Similarly, the Ordinance broadly defines genetic information discrimination to prohibit discrimination based on information about an individual’s genetic tests, the genetic tests of family members, and the manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members. Although employers in the City already must provide leave to employees who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, the Ordinance expands those protections to prohibit discrimination against those individuals.

In addition to creating these three new protected classes, the Ordinance now prohibits discrimination based not only on actual membership in all of the protected classes, but also perceived membership in those classes. The Ordinance’s retaliation provisions also now are enhanced, prohibiting harassment, threats, harm, damage, or other penalty, because a person complied with, exercised rights under, or enjoyed the benefits of the Ordinance.

Employers should be aware that, as a result of the amended Ordinance, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) has more enforcement powers in its arsenal, including the power to issue an order, subject to judicial review, directing a respondent who is found to have engaged in an unlawful employment practice to take affirmative action to redress harms suffered, including issuing cease-and-desist orders; ordering injunctive relief such as hiring or reinstatement, with or without back pay; and ordering the payment of compensatory damages, punitive damages (not to exceed $2,000 per violation), reasonable attorneys’ fees, and hearing costs. The rights of complaining parties to pursue their claims in court will be more favorable under the Ordinance as well, allowing a complaining party to sue in court if, within one year after filing the administrative complaint, the PCHR has not dismissed the complaint or entered into a conciliation agreement.