by Liz Bradbury
Originally a Column in the November, 2009 Issue of the Valley Gay Press Newspaper
In October, 2009, the Chair of the Pennsylvania State Human Relations Commission, Stephen Glassman, asked me to help present a training to the staff of the City of Reading’s Human Relations Commission, on their recent addition of sexual orientation and gender identity the city’s non-discrimination law. Now that the city of Reading has added S.O. and G.I. to its non-discrimination law, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are protected from employment, housing and public accommodation discrimination in Reading. I led the effort to add S.O. and G.I. to Allentown’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance - which passed in 2002 and I’m currently the Chair of the Allentown Human Relations Commission. I’ve worked on many S.O and G.I. discrimination complaints so I had a lot of information to share in the Reading HRC training.
Like Allentown, Reading has an excellent volunteer Human Relations Commission, but unlike Allentown, which has just one person to investigate discrimination complaints as only part of his job, Reading has an entire department of paid staff who deal with the investigation of discrimination complaints and issues. This department consists of an executive director, two full-time investigators and a consulting attorney who works part-time with the Human Relations Investigators on legal issues.
If you live or work in Reading and feel you have been discriminated against based on any protected class, you can contact this department for help. I spoke directly with Kimberly Talbot, the Executive Director, of the RHRC, on how you file a discrimination complaint in Reading.
Your first step is to call the Human Relations Office at 610-655-6141-and ask to set up a 1 1/2 to 2 hour appointment to come into their office at Reading City Hall (at 8th and Washington Streets) to discuss your discrimination complaint. You should bring information about when the issue took place, who was involved, what happened, and the basis on which the complaint will be filed. If this is an employment complaint, bring the full name and address of an employer and the approximate number of people employed at the business. If it is a public accommodation compliant -- which means denial or unfair treatment in a business, agency or service provider -- have the address and name of the business or agency. For a housing compliant, have information about the landlord. If you aren’t sure what to bring, ask when you call.
The Human Relations Commission investigator will be nonjudgmental. Investigators who speak both English and Spanish are available. Be sure to give all the facts and details to the Investigator. Answer all questions fully. Provide any witnesses or documents, such as a payroll slip or rent receipts, and be sure to keep your investigator advised of any change in your address or phone number. The investigator will determine if more information is needed and will help you to prepare a statement that you can sign.
The office is compelled to deal with housing complaints within 100 days. Complaints regarding employment and public accommodation can take longer. However, it seems to be the motto of the RHRC that justice delayed is justice denied.
Kimberly Talbot asked me to convey that the City of Reading’s website is not fully linked with the RHRC, which the city is trying to correct. The best course right now is to call 610-655-6141 and speak directly with someone in the department. If you have other questions, or are not in Reading, feel free to call me at the PDN office at: 610-432-5449.