Tag Archives: Discrimination

ALERT: ATHLETIC EQUITY REPORTING LAW UNDER ATTACK IN HARRISBURG!

Just last week, the first annual athletic gender equity reports were due from public secondary schools under a new state law that passed on June 30, 2012.  The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act (or Act 82 Article XVI-C) requires secondary schools to provide annual, publicly released reports containing information about school-sponsored athletic programs in order to improve schools’ compliance with Title IX and work towards achieving gender equality.

Sadly, efforts are currently underway in the state legislature to interfere with this law before the first reports are even publicly released.  On Tuesday, October 22, House Bill 1734 will be considered by the House Education Committee.  House Bill 1734 would repeal several crucial provisions of this important disclosure law.

  • HB 1734 would eliminate the requirement that schools report the      total value of booster club purchases for each team. (Significantly, this portion of the reporting law does not even take effect until next year.)  Some schools blame the inequality of their athletic programs on booster clubs, but in fact, schools are responsible for ensuring that boys and      girls have equal opportunities and experiences. HB 1734 would allow schools to remove from their annual reporting the privately raised money being poured into boys’ teams.
  • HB 1734 would repeal the requirement that, for the first year only, schools include the dates when each team was established. This      easily available information shows whether schools have a history and continuing practice of expanding the girls’ athletic program.
  • HB 1734 would sunset all reporting after just three years.

Passing HB 1734 virtually guarantees that parents and students will have to turn to other, more burdensome ways of learning about their schools’ compliance with state and federal gender equity laws.

The participation gap between boys and girls in interscholastic athletics is widening.  See Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports, Sharp Center & Women’s Sports Foundation, Oct. 2012.  Now is the wrong time to retreat from the mandate of equal opportunity and fair treatment for our girls.

What you can do:

  • Contact your state rep and urge him or her to vote NO on HB 1734 and stand up for gender equality.
  • Visit your local public high school’s website and see what its Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report has to say.
  • Can’t find a report from your school? Contact your school’s Title IX officer and ask where you can get a copy of the report.
  • Can’t find your school’s Title IX officer? Call your school’s superintendent and ask who the Title IX officer is and how you can get a copy of the Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report.
  • Not getting the information you are entitled to? Call the Women’s Law Project: 412-281-2892 or 215-928-9801.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Gender Discrimination, Girls, PA Law, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX, Women's Law Project

Major League Baseball Includes Sexual Orientation in its Anti-Discrimination Policy

By Molly Duerig, WLP Intern

It’s no mystery why the Major League Baseball Players Association has announced a new component to its anti-discrimination policy that specifically denounces discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Many professional athletes are openly supportive of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

This Huffington Post article lists 28 such athletes, including Hudson Taylor, a three-time all-American wrestler from the University of Maryland who in January 2011 started Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization focused on uniting athletes who pledge to respect one another, regardless of perceived or actual sexual orientation.

As of now, no Major League Baseball (MLB) player is an Athlete Ally Pro Ambassador – someone who has pledged to promote the organization’s mission to end homophobia and transphobia in sports. Currently, Pro Allies range from NFL players and North American Soccer League members to collegiate lacrosse coaches and players.

Perhaps the MLB’s new policy will motivate players to join ranks with Athlete Ally, as well. Clearly, momentum is rising for equality in the professional sports world.

The MLB’s progress is in keeping with a growing trend of advocacy for gay rights in the professional sports world. In late February, the National Football League’s anti-discrimination policy was questioned, when Colorado tight end Nick Kasa revealed he’d been asked about his sexual orientation during his interview.

Kasa told ESPN Radio Denver that at the NFL Scouting Combine, he was asked questions such as “Are you married?” and “Do you like girls?” by an NFL team.

Later, the NFL investigated these claims made by Kasa, ones that were echoed by other draft-eligible prospects. The NFL took no official action, but reminded interviewers not to consider sexual orientation as a factor in hiring. It also cited the questions asked of Kasa as inappropriate for interviews.

Although many athletes identify as LGBT, relatively few professional athletes have come out as openly gay. LGBT rights organizations have blamed the policies and attitudes in sports that encourage athletes to cover up their true sexual orientations. The discriminatory questions asked of NFL players are, unfortunately, just one example.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said that the organization has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, “both on the field and away from it.”

“We welcome all individuals regardless of sexual orientation into our ballparks, along with those of different races, religions, genders and national origins,” Selig said.

Last October, all 30 MLB teams “went purple” for Spirit Day on the 17th, showcasing their support and respect for the LGBT community.

The organization seems to be moving in a positive direction toward acceptance and support of LGBT folk.

Last August, the NBA became the first major sports league to receive sensitivity training from Athlete Ally, which has offered to train all major league sports teams on preventing bullying and promoting inclusion.

Hopefully, the MLB will also take Athlete Ally up on its offer now that it has officially spoken out against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The organization has nothing to lose – and everything to gain – for openly promoting inclusion and acceptance of all different kinds of players.

After all, true teamwork requires that kind of acceptance. Now we just look forward to the day when the MLB welcomes women baseball players onto its rosters.

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, LGBT, Sex Discrimination, Sexual harassment, Sexual orientation

Rainbow Alliance Victory Against Gender Discrimination

Tara R. Pfeifer, WLP Staff Attorney

The Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations recently issued a ‘probable cause’ finding against the University of Pittsburgh in connection with a gender discrimination complaint filed by Rainbow Alliance, University of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQA-student group.

Rainbow Alliance, represented by Women’s Law Project, filed its complaint against the University over a year ago, after the University repeatedly publicly announced that its gender-specific bathroom and locker room facilities were to be used only by those whose birth certificate showed a matching gender/sex designation. Rainbow Alliance alleged that requiring transgender students to use facilities that do not match their gender identity or expression endangers them and violates the City of Pittsburgh’s non-discrimination laws.

While the probable cause finding – which means that the Compliance Review Section of the Commission determined that the evidence supports Rainbow Alliance’s allegations of gender discrimination in the Complaint – is a critical victory for Rainbow Alliance, it is a preliminary finding that is part of a lengthier process before the Commission.  Indeed, the University has an opportunity to request reconsideration of that ruling.  Moreover, the Commission will attempt to mediate the dispute and will hold a hearing on the issues raised in the Complaint before any final orders or rulings are issued.

In the meantime, the University’s legal counsel has assured Rainbow Alliance that the University will allow students, staff, and visitors to use whatever restroom is appropriate for them, and no birth certificate or other documentation will be necessary.  Issues that remain to be addressed in the case include access to and use of locker rooms, residence halls, off-campus lodging for school activities and amending student records.

Congratulations to the Rainbow Alliance for their fearless advocacy on behalf of the transgender community!

(Also see earlier blog: Rainbow Alliance Scores Early Victory in Battle Over University of Pittsburgh’s Gendered Facilities Policy)

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, LGBT, Pittsburgh, Sexual orientation

DOJ Issues Ground-breaking Consent Decree Addressing Gender Bias

By Carol E. Tracy, Esq. and Terry L. Fromson, Esq.

The Women’s Law Project (WLP) commends the Department of Justice (DOJ) on its ground-breaking consent decree with the City of New Orleans, which addresses gender bias in the police response to and investigation of reports of sexual assault and domestic violence.  This consent decree followed the March 2011 publication of the DOJ’s report on its investigation of the NOPD.  The WLP identified the NOPD as one of the many police departments which have chronically failed to respond to rape complaints when WLP testified before a Congressional committee in September, 2010. 

In March 2011, the DOJ released a report (pdf) of its investigation of the NOPD. The report addressed many areas of policing but, for women, the most dramatic component was its landmark finding of gender bias in police practice.    

Specifically, the DOJ found that:

NOPD has systematically misclassified large numbers of possible sexual assaults, resulting in a sweeping failure to properly investigate many potential cases of rape, attempted rape, and other sex crimes. We find that in situations where the Department pursues sexual assault complaints, the investigations are seriously deficient, marked by poor victim interviewing skills, missing or inadequate documentation, and minimal efforts to contact witnesses or interrogate suspects. The documentation we reviewed was replete with stereotypical assumptions and judgments about sex crimes and victims of sex crimes, including misguided commentary about the victims’ perceived credibility, sexual history, or delay in contacting the police.

The consent decree, announced by DOJ on July 24, 2012 includes significant steps towards reforming the NOPD’s response to rape complaints. New Orleans has agreed to clarify its procedures for responding to sexual assault, train officers to appropriately classify crimes and conduct interviews in a sensitive manner, increase supervision, and most significantly, establish a committee that includes community advocates to annually review all sexual crimes classified as unfounded or miscellaneous, as well as a random sample of open investigations of sexual assaults.

Both the report and the consent decree establish benchmarks which other cities with similar entrenched practices should take note of and implement. For over a decade, the Women’s Law Project has effectively advocated or improved police response to sexual and domestic violence in Philadelphia and led the reform effort that resulted in the FBI’s recent expansion of the definition of rape for the Uniform Crime Reporting system.  Following the issuance of its report, the DOJ invited the WLP to share with its staff the strategies that it helped to implement in Philadelphia to bring about reform. WLP is gratified to see that the consent decree incorporates several of these reforms. To read more about gender bias in law enforcement and WLP’s continuing work in this area, please see WLP’s 2012 report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women (pdf).

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, Government, Rape, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women

Pennsylvania Voter I.D. Law Disproportionately Impacts Women as Election Draws Near

Molly Cohen, WLP Intern

When Pennsylvania passed a law earlier this year imposing a voter ID requirement on voting in every election and narrowing the list of acceptable forms of ID, critics quickly pointed out that the law targets specific populations. Low-income voters, racial minorities, and elderly voters are less likely to possess the necessary photo ID. For many, obtaining proper identification entails a descent into the oft unnavigable maze of state bureaucracies. Additionally, despite Governor Corbett’s promise that there would be no financial cost to this process, those who do not have a raised-seal copy of their birth certificate must pay ten dollars to obtain one. Without this, they cannot apply for a photo ID if they have never had PennDOT issued ID before. The cost and effort of this process may dissuade otherwise eligible voters from participating in the coming election.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP), the Advancement Project, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter, LLP, filed a lawsuit on behalf of ten Pennsylvania residents who will be unable to cast their votes this November because of the new regulations, alleging that the law creates an “undue burden” on voters without photo identification and disproportionately affects the poor.

However, in addition to targeting the aforementioned marginalized groups, voter rights advocates warn that this issue significantly impacts women across the socioeconomic spectrum. As we explained in an earlier article, women commonly change their names and their addresses to marry or divorce. According to Faye Anderson, the chief spokesperson of a voter information network called the Cost of Freedom Project, approximately 34% of eligible female voters do not possess citizenship documents that bear their current name. Anyone who does not take steps to correct a mismatched last name or outdated address may be unpleasantly surprised to find that she cannot cast a ballot at the polls.

The validity of the Voter ID law is, at best, questionable. Proponents of the legislation peddled it as the cure for voter fraud, yet there is no evidence that any such problem actually exists. While Governor Corbett, who signed the bill, initially claimed that the law would only impact 1% of Pennsylvanians, a new study places the number closer to 9% statewide. In Philadelphia County, 15.6% of active voters do not possess PennDOT ID and may be ineligible to vote. These statistics have been proffered as evidence that the law, which passed along strict party lines, was designed to suppress liberal votes and ensure the GOP retains political primacy in the state. Mike Turzai, the State House Majority Leader,  reinforced these concerns when he spoke at a recent Republican State Committee meeting. He named the law as one of the party’s accomplishments for the year: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

A hearing slated for July 25th in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in Applewhite et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al. will determine whether the law will be in effect this November.

Those who oppose the Voter ID Law have organized several protests and events for the week leading up to the hearing in order to increase media attention and public pressure. A partial schedule is included below.

Saturday 7/21:
PA Voter ID Coalition Operations Center Open House from 11 am to 2 pm at 310 West Chelten Avenue in Philadelphia

Tuesday 7/24:
NAACP Rally for Justice at 1 pm at the State Capitol (3rd Street & State Street) in Harrisburg

Wednesday 7/25:
Hearing in Commonwealth Court to stop the Voter ID Law at 10 am in Courtroom 3002 at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center (601 Commonwealth Avenue in Harrisburg). This is a public hearing, and supporters of the lawsuit are encouraged to attend.

There will also be protests across the state on the same day.

Philadelphia: 11 am – Thomas Paine Plaza (Broad Street & JFK Blvd)

Lehigh Valley: 12 pm – Lehigh County Government Center (7th Street & Hamilton Street, Allentown)

Pittsburgh: 1 pm – Freedom Corner (Crawford Street & Centre Avenue)

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Filed under 2012 Election, Democracy, PA Law, PA Legislature, PA Supreme Court

Ms. Magazine Reports on the Women’s Law Project and Charlotte Murphy

Molly Duerig, WLP Intern

It’s been forty years since the passage of Title IX, a crucial piece of legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded educational programs.  Although we’ve come a long way, cases continue to pop up that prove we still have a good deal of work to do before we obtain gender equity.

Last month, Ms. Magazine featured a story about eleven-year-old Charlotte Murphy of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Charlotte was distraught last year when her public elementary school disbanded the girls’ basketball team for a season due to lack of funding.  Then she learned that the boys’ basketball team would continue to operate as normal that season.

Charlotte was upset about the school’s decision.  However, unlike most people, she chose to speak up and call attention to the school district’s mistake.  She wrote a letter to the Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, Dr. Linda Lane, explaining that her school violated Title IX and asking for a meeting to discuss the situation.  Senior Staff Attorney Susan Frietsche of the WLP Pittsburgh office prepared Charlotte for the meeting.  Charlotte’s tenacity and her collaboration with the WLP resulted in a new policy that permits elementary schools in the Pittsburgh Public School District to sponsor a boys’ basketball team only if they also sponsor one for girls. The policy also requires equal treatment for both teams.

Charlotte won her battle and is once again able to play basketball at her school.  This year, there were girls’ basketball teams at 14 elementary schools, up from 3 in previous years.  While Charlotte and her team didn’t win, she was grateful to be given the chance to play just like her male peers.  As Erin Buzuvis, Western New England University law professor and Title IX expert, explained,

If the last 40 years are any indication, Title IX’s success is due to the eternal vigilance of the law’s supporters, who continue to defend it through the political process and in the courts. This vigilance must continue in order for the law to address persistent sex discrimination, and to guard against unwarranted sex segregation.

On the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, WLP looks forward to future successes for gender equity.  We congratulate Charlotte Murphy for her spirited advocacy!

Visit our website to see a video of Charlotte discussing why she chose to speak up and why she thinks Title IX is so important.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Equality, Gender Discrimination, Pittsburgh, Title IX

Employment Non-Discrimination Act Gets Hearing in the Senate

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

On June 12th, the U.S Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing to debate the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Currently no federal law exists barring discrimination of individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA would provide an equal standard of workplace protection for LGBT Americans. It was last discussed in 2009, and has been stalled in Congress for the past three years. Activists hope the Senate hearing will be the first step to getting the bill moving in Congress once again.

To gain bipartisan support within the committee, and, it is hoped, within the full senate, a broad exception for religious organizations is included in the bill. The exception is more extensive than in previous discrimination bills, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on which ENDA is based. The Civil Rights Act lays out protections for individuals based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Religious organizations are allowed to take an individual’s religion into account, but that is the only exemption they are given. For example, a Catholic school can require that all staff and faculty is Catholic, but they cannot fire someone for being a woman or being African American.

The religious exception in ENDA goes one step further, and allows religious organizations to continue to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. Religious organizations will not be held accountable for firing employees whom they learn to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. While this weakens the force of the bill, lawmakers believe it is the only way to ensure the bill is passed.

Pennsylvania is one of 29 states that does not have a law banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While 24 local governments in Pennsylvania have ordinances that prohibit “discrimination against LGBT people, approximately 70% of the state’s population remains unprotected,” according to the ACLU of Pennsylvania.  Both the Pennsylvania Senate and House debated employment discrimination bills in 2011, but neither came to a vote and there has been little talk for the last year of granting these protections.

This hearing also marks the first time that an individual who is openly transgender has testified in the Senate. Kylar Broadus is the founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition of Columbia, Missouri. He started the organization after he was fired from his job for coming out as transgender and beginning to transition. He had no way to fight his employer because there was no law that made firing him illegal.

There is widespread support for passing ENDA within the American public, even among Republicans and those usually unsympathetic to LGBT rights. A poll found that 73% of Americans believe Congress should pass ENDA, and many think that federal workplace protection already exists for LGBT individuals.  Proponents of ENDA are hopeful that the bill will come to a vote sometime this year.

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Filed under Congress, Employment, LGBT, Politics, Sexual orientation, Sexuality