City could shutter businesses that discriminate, under Council-passed bill

Businesses that discriminate against patrons or employees could be ordered to close by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations under legislation City Council passed  Thursday.

“Considering where we are as a country, as a nation, and as a city, we need to make sure that we're sending the message that all people in the city of Philadelphia, regardless of your ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, that we are a welcoming city,” Councilman Derek Green, the bill’s sponsor, said after it was passed.

The bill was introduced in response to concerns about racial discrimination at bars and restaurants in the Gayborhood.

If signed into law by Mayor Kenney, it would come into play after a business has had a complaint filed against it as violating the city’s fair-practices ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and sexual orientation, among others.

If the commission found the business had repeated violations and was not being cooperative in remedying the behavior, it could order that the business cease operations for a specified period.

The law currently allows the commission to order that the business “cease and desist” unlawful practices, but not to close up shop if it does not comply.

The councilman’s office said the hope was that the punishment is rarely used and that the threat of it is enough to encourage business owners to be more proactive.

Rue Landau, the commission's executive director, testified in support of the bill at a hearing last month: “It sends a strong message to businesses that this city will not tolerate discrimination, and will use any tools necessary to combat it, so that we can ensure that Philadelphia is a safe and equitable place for everyone to live, work, and visit.”