The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations will accept for investigation antibias complaints filed by individuals who believe they’ve been discriminated against due to the employment practices of a local Boy Scouts council.
In response to questions about a job-application form allegedly used by the BSA Cradle of Liberty Council that forbids the hiring of atheists and gays, the PCHR issued the following statement on March 1:
“The PCHR is committed to fighting discrimination and ensuring that employers provide equal opportunities for all Philadelphians. The city’s civil-rights law, the Fair Practices Ordinance, protects LGBT individuals, as well as members from many other communities, who are victims of employment discrimination. If a member of the LGBT community or the nontheist community applies for a job with the Cradle of Liberty Council and is denied employment based on his or her sexual orientation or nontheist belief, that person should file a complaint with our office. The PCHR will enforce the Fair Practices Ordinance to the fullest extent of the law.”
Rue Landau, executive director of the PCHR, declined to elaborate on the statement for this story.
The job-application form was spotlighted recently after the national BSA announced that it might ease its antigay membership ban, but declined to state whether it would ease its antigay employment ban.
According to court records, Cradle has used the job-application form in the past, but the extent of its current use remains unclear.
Kera Armstrong, a Cradle spokesperson, declined to answer any questions about the job-application form.
Cradle is believed to be the only employer in Philadelphia that uses such a form.
Cradle is headquartered in a city-owned building on the Ben Franklin Parkway, but the city is trying to evict Cradle from the facility.
That litigation remains pending in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
The protected categories that cannot be discriminated against by employers in Philadelphia include: race, ethnicity, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, marital status, familial status, genetic information and domestic or sexual-violence status.
The law also makes it illegal for an employer in Philadelphia to “cause to be printed, published or circulated any notice or advertisement relating to employment or membership indicating any preference, limitation or specification constituting discrimination.”
Margaret A. Downey, president of the Freethought Society, applauded PCHR’s willingness to accept antibias complaints against Cradle for investigation.
But Downey also expressed a desire for PCHR to initiate its own complaint against Cradle, since it is within the agency’s authority to do so.
“There’s plenty of evidence that Cradle is breaking the law,” she said. “We have court documents indicating that Cradle uses a blatantly illegal job application. What more [evidence] does the city need to take action?”
Downey also said it’s difficult for an individual to apply for a job at Cradle, let alone file a complaint against the council.
“We have several members who would sincerely like to work for Cradle,” Downey said. “But how do you get your foot in the door, when Cradle is so closed off to the community? The front door is always locked. It’s like Cradle has a moat surrounding the [Parkway] building.”
Downey also questioned whether city officials would let an employer use a job-application form that forbids the hiring of African-Americans or Jews.
“The city would put a stop to that immediately,” Downey added. “All earthly hell would break loose.”
Palma M. Rasmussen, a disability-rights expert, said Cradle shouldn’t use the job-application form anywhere in the city, even if it vacates the Parkway building.
The city’s antibias law permits fines of up to $2,000 daily for violators.
“We want the law vigorously enforced, and we want Cradle fined accordingly,” Rasmussen said. “It’s clear that Cradle is violating the law. Why do we have to wait for more people to be hurt by them, before the city takes action?”
Rasmussen also expressed hope that Cradle will voluntarily enroll in diversity-training classes.
“If Cradle does begin to hire people of diverse backgrounds, I would hope they take sensitivity training, to make sure the new employees are treated properly,” she added. “The Scouts have a huge history of being intolerant to the plight of human beings.”
Armstrong had no comment on the possibility of Cradle enrolling in diversity-training classes.
Cradle claims the city owes it about $1 million in legal fees stemming from the eviction dispute. But if the city prevails in the litigation, it won’t owe Cradle any money.