PCHR still contemplating Archdiocese jurisdiction

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Fifteen months after a gay man filed an anti-bias complaint against St. John’s Hospice in Center City, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations is still trying to decide whether it has jurisdiction over the matter.

But while that dispute ensues, complainant Francis J. Stucker has also contacted other agencies for help — and his efforts evidently have prompted LGBT-friendly improvements at the hospice.

Stucker said he was subjected to a hostile work environment at the hospice of such magnitude that he was compelled to resign after about seven years of service.

The hospice, at 1221 Race St., is operated by Catholic Social Services, a nonprofit arm of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It provides temporary shelter to homeless men and is supported largely by city tax dollars.

To receive those funds, CSS officials signed a professional-services contract with the city agreeing not to discriminate on a variety of categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

After Stucker resigned in November 2007, he promptly filed a complaint against CSS with the PCHR, citing antigay slurs and other alleged mistreatment of gay residents at the hospice. He also was upset with an archdiocese e-mail urging him to work politically against same-sex-marriage rights with the state legislature.

But last March, the PCHR dismissed Stucker’s complaint, stating that it lacked jurisdiction because the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance exempts religious organizations and that the ordinance is silent on the issue of religious organizations that receive city funding.

Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, which is providing legal assistance to Stucker, has petitioned the PCHR to reopen the case.

Amara Chaudhry, legal director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, expressed hope that the PCHR would assert jurisdiction in the matter.

“The commission should take this case,” Chaudhry said. “Catholic Social Services signed a professional-services contract in which they agreed to abide by the anti-bias provisions. They contracted away their exemption, and they should abide by the terms of the contract.”

Implied in the contract is a willingness to undergo a PCHR investigation if someone alleges a violation of the ordinance, she said.

If the PCHR ultimately decides not to reopen Stucker’s case, Equality Advocates Pennsylvania will explore other legal options on his behalf, Chaudhry said.

“If the commission decides it doesn’t have jurisdiction, we would explore the option of bringing a claim based on breach of contract, which would be in state court,” she said.

This week, Rue Landau, PCHR executive director, said commission officials have spent many hours trying to determine whether it has jurisdiction in the Stucker case.

“The issue of jurisdiction is still under review by the commissioners,” Landau said. She didn’t have a time frame for a final decision, and said the public would be notified.

But Stucker didn’t stop with the PCHR.

Last year, he also contacted Mayor Nutter’s office, which passed along Stucker’s concerns to Dainette M. Mintz, director of the city’s Office of Supportive Housing, who oversees the CSS contract.

In an Oct. 20, 2008, letter to Stucker, Mintz said several measures were implemented at St. John’s Hospice to ensure an LGBT-friendly work environment, including staff counseling, training and discipline, the hiring of a new administrator and distribution of the city’s anti-bias policies as they relate to LGBT individuals.

Kevin Mulligan, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese, declined to comment for this story.

Mintz couldn’t be reached for comment.

Landau said she discussed the matter with Mintz and concluded that Mintz acted appropriately to ensure that no anti-LGBT bias takes place at St. John’s Hospice.

“While we have a formal complaint process here, we support any additional efforts to resolve issues of discrimination,” Landau said.

Landau also noted that Stucker’s complaint with the PCHR — though dismissed — may have paved the way for the improvements cited in Mintz’s letter.

“A lot of times, people file with us and it prompts some employers to make improvements, regardless of the outcome of the case,” she said.

Tim Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208.

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.