Philadelphia is poised to strengthen the enforcement powers of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (“PCHR”), the City’s primary civil rights and anti-discrimination agency. Under legislation that passed City Council on May 8, 2017, the PCHR would have the authority to issue cease and desist orders—closing a business’s operations for an unspecified length of time—if the agency determines the business has engaged in “severe or repeated violations” of the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance (“the Ordinance”). The authority to shut down a business’s operation is an unheard of remedy for employment related civil rights violation and—given the significant ramification for employers—it is critical for Philadelphia employers to be aware of the potential consequences of the PCHR’s enhanced powers for their business operations.
On September 8, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) proposed regulations to implement Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. Section 1557 prohibits certain entities that administer health programs and activities from excluding an individual from participation, denying program benefits, or discriminating against an individual based on his or her race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. On May 13, 2016, the HHS Office of Civil Rights issued the final rule implementing Section 1557. The final rule also prohibits discriminatory practices by health care providers, such as hospitals, that accept Medicare or doctors who participate in the Medicaid program. The final rule became effective on July 18, 2016.
Section 1557 builds on long-standing federal civil rights laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975. The final rule addresses effective communication for individuals with disabilities at section 92.202. One notable requirement of this new rule is that hospitals must give “primary consideration” to the individual’s preference regarding auxiliary aids for effective communication, such as requests for on-site ASL interpreters and other types of auxiliary aids.