A Philadelphia Woman with Disabilities Was Threatened with Eviction for Exercising Her Rights. We're Suing in Federal Court. 
Brenda Harrison and George Donnelly
Brenda Harrison and George Donnelly
A corporate landlord threatened Brenda Harrison, a 62-year old Philadelphia woman with multiple disabilities, with eviction from her home of 14 years after she insisted that her landlord had the responsibility to ensure her unit was accessible for persons with disabilities. She is now suing her landlord, Pelham Court LP, in federal court under the Fair Housing Act. We are representing Ms. Harrison along with Ryan Allen Hancock of Willig, Williams & Davidson. 

Ms. Harrison has serious mobility deficiencies that prevent her from climbing stairs, so when the elevator serving her unit is down, she cannot leave her apartment. While confined to her home, Ms. Harrison would withhold a portion of her rent--an act that is her right as a tenant in Pennsylvania--informing Pelham Court property managers and reminding them of her disability.  In response, in 2017, Pelham Court threatened to evict her. Ms. Harrison filed a complaint with the Philadelphia Fair Housing Commission, which found that this threat of eviction violated the Philadelphia Fair Housing Ordinance. 

Even then, her landlord continued to attempt to force her out. Last November, her landlord included a term in her lease renewal that would bar her from deducting rent when the elevators were down. When she refused to accept this discriminatory term, her landlord terminated her lease and threatened her with eviction again, all while the elevators serving her apartment were shut down for several months of scheduled maintenance. Ms. Harrison's story was covered by Ronnie Polaneczky in the Philadelphia Inquirer"If a shrewd tenant like Harrison can be treated this badly, God only knows how less-savvy tenants fare with equally callous landlords," Polaneczky wrote.

Pennsylvania Still Has Work to Do to Prepare Students with Disabilities for Employment: Analyzing Two Years of OVR Reports 

People with disabilities at work
Thousands of students with disabilities are not getting the services they need so that they can become contributing members of our society. 

Under the Work Experience for High School Students with Disabilities Act, also known as Act 26, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) has been required to publish quarterly reports starting in the 2016-17 school year, on the number of students with disabilities that the agency is helping to prepare for life after high school. The purpose of Act 26 is to increase the number of students with disabilities ages 14-21 who are obtaining competitive integrated employment during high school and entering competitive integrated employment upon graduation. Competitive Integrated Employment means the student earns at least minimum wage and works alongside non-disabled peers.

We analyzed the six reports published to date and found that the number of students receiving these services or attaining such employment after graduation was extremely low. For example, during 2017-2018, only 58 students statewide were recorded as entering competitive integrated employment within three months of graduation. In addition, the OVR reports lack sufficient data for stakeholders to fully assess the impact of Act 26. We will continue to analyze the results of each subsequent quarterly report issued by OVR. 

Thank you for coming to Voting is Our Superpower! 
honorees with awards
Jenny Clarke speaking

Group of revelers
Crowd from the event

A group of revelers
Bridge and flowers

We are so grateful to everyone who came out to support our work and help us honor those who made our victory against partisan gerrymandering possible at Voting is Our Superpower! Special thanks to our event host committee, our sponsors, our board members, emcee Tamala Edwards, Fringe Arts + Le Peg, and our event planners at Madison + Gall. Check out more photos from the celebration on Facebook! The event also featured the world premiere of We Votin', an inspiring anthem of the history of the struggle for voting rights, created for Voting is Our Superpower by Philadelphia hip-hop artist and activist Christian Lovehall. Watch the video on YouTube!

We Votin' - Christian Lovehall aka Wordz the Poet Emcee
We Votin' - Christian Lovehall aka Wordz the Poet Emcee

Gerrymandering Update: U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Review Redistricting Case, Denying Legislative Leaders' Third Request
U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the merits of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision striking down and replacing the state's 2011 congressional district map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The Court denied a petition for writ of certiorari filed in June by Pennsylvania's legislative leaders, Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati.

We are glad that this matter has finally been put to rest. There was no basis for the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in this case, decided solely on the basis of Pennsylvania law. As we   explained in our opposition to the petition, the legislative leaders' arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court contradicted fundamental principles of federalism, longstanding precedent, and their own positions in previous lawsuits.

Remembering Frank Finch, III
Frank Finch, III
We are sad to report the death of our former colleague, Frank Finch III, on Tuesday, October 16. Frank was a solo practitioner most of his career, but he had a stint at the ACLU before joining us in 1977. He was the second black attorney in our office. For four years, Frank handled employment discrimination cases based on race or disability. He also brought one of the two cases which established a right to extended school year programs for students with disabilities.

His best known client was Penny Brace, the woman who challenged the Philadelphia Police Department for its refusal to hire women as police officers. In that case, he took on a City administration under Mayor Frank Rizzo and Police Commissioner Joseph O'Neil that was fully committed to litigating its refusal. The police commissioner issued a report stating that female officers "are not as effective as male officers" and "are less likely to take charge in an incident." Frank and Penny Brace won the case, facing down prejudice and securing a victory for women professionals in Philadelphia.  

"Frank was devoted to equality and fairness. That's why he was a lawyer," said Michael Churchill, who worked with Frank. "We were fortunate to have such an exemplar of the spirit of justice on our staff and as an outstanding member of our community of alumni." Condolences and flowers can be sent to Frank's loved ones online via the Donahue Funeral Home

Eviction is a Cause of Poverty: Our Client Lost His Home and His Livelihood in an Illegal Eviction
Philadelphia rowhomes
Flickr user Melody Joy Kramer
In an eviction deemed illegal by Philadelphia Municipal Court, our client, a DJ in Philadelphia, was suddenly locked out of his home of 17 years in January 2018. After taking legal action successfully challenging his judgement of eviction, our client discovered at a hearing for his case that his landlord had thrown away and destroyed tens of thousands of dollars of DJ equipment and nearly all of his personal belongings. 

Since being illegally thrown out of his home, our client has been unable to find permanent housing--at least one housing application was denied due to the now-vacated judgement--and has stayed with friends or in his car. He has also been unable to find steady work as a DJ or replace the equipment that his landlord destroyed. "This has been an extreme financial hardship for me," our client said. He is now suing his landlord in the Philadelphia Court of Common pleas for wrongful eviction, violation of consumer protection law, and conversion, and is seeking actual and punitive damages.  Evictions are one of the most pernicious effects of poverty, but evictions can also exacerbate and lead to poverty themselves. Our client's loss of the tools of his livelihood in an illegal lockout is just one example of this phenomenon in action.

Public Education Funding in Pennsylvania: A Community Meeting
Pennsylvania has the widest gap in school funding between wealthy and poor districts in the entire country. How did we get here, and how can we change it? Staff attorney Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg and Shirlee Howe of Public Citizens for Children and Youth will speak at a community meeting hosted by Friends of Vare-Washington in South Philadelphia on Wednesday, November 14, breaking down the history and present of our school funding system. Dan will also share the latest updates from our school funding lawsuit. 

The meeting will also feature speakers  from Parents United for Public Education and the Philly Health Schools Initiative. Childcare and translation services will be available. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018
7:00 - 8:30 p.m. 
821 Dudley Street
Philadelphia, PA 19148

Board Member Spotlight: Matt Glazer

Matt Glazer
Matt Glazer
Matt Glazer has been part of our Board of Directors since 2015, and most recently served as co-chair of our event host committee, along with Stephanie Saunders. In this role, Matt was essential to coordinating all aspects of our annual celebration--the event would not have been a success without his efforts and those of the entire event host committee. He also serves on the board's litigation and nominations committees. He is a member of Cozen O'Connor, where he specializes in complex commercial litigation. Previously, he had served in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. "I am continuously impressed and amazed by the level of dedication from the staff and am inspired by how effectively they use litigation to stamp out oppression," Matt said. "They have been at the forefront of some of the most impactful litigation in the region--and across the country--designed to help improve the lives of those most in need. The lawyers and staff are fearless, taking on whatever cases they feel can right the gravest wrong. It is an honor to be able to play a small part in an organization that does so much good for so many." Thank you Matt!