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11/25/2019

PHRC Releases Decision on Commonwealth V. Neshaminy School District

HARRISBURG 11/25/19:  Today the Commissioners of the PHRC, during their regular monthly public session, voted to accept the recommendations of their Hearing Examiner and issue a Final Order in the above-referenced case.

Initially, a Complaint was filed with PHRC in September 2013 alleging ancestry-based harassment of Keith (a student) as a result of the pervasive use of the word "Redskin" in the school environment.  That complaint was withdrawn. However, the commission, concerned about the allegations of discrimination, filed a "Commission Initiated Complaint" alleging a violation of section 5(i)(1) of the PHRA.  After a finding of probable cause and conciliation efforts between the parties failed the matter was scheduled for public hearing.

The final order includes, among other requirements, (pg. 54 &55 of the order) that the school cease and desist from the use of any and all logos and imagery in the Neshaminy High School that negatively stereotype Native Americans; and that, at this time, the use of the term Redskins shall be permitted so long as the requisite educational information is provided to District students to ensure that students do not form the idea that it is acceptable to stereotype any group; the District shall  also develop an appropriate educational experience consistent with the points outlined in the opinion; within 30 days of the effective date of this order the, that the District shall report to the PHRC on the manner of its compliance with the terms of the order; additionally as long as the District continues to use the name Redskins the district shall report on the actions it has taken to comply with the educational requirements of this order.

Today the majority of PHRC Commissioners agreed with the recommendation of the Hearing Examiner based on the evidence presented, all agreed that the use of a name, logo or imagery that negatively stereotypes Native Americans is not acceptable.  Chairman of the Commission, Joel Bolstein agreed with opinion that the term "Redskins" is offensive to Native Americans. He stated in the concurring opinion "What was acceptable long ago, may no longer be acceptable. this is one such instance.  I recognize that had there been testimony from a Native American student explaining how he or she were offended by the term, the Hearing Examiner may have found that the term was discriminatory and the continued use of that term was, in and of itself a violation of the PHRA."

Commissioner Michael Hardiman also included a "CONCURRENCE IN PART AND DISSENT IN PART", in which he states, in light of the applicable law: "I concur that the Neshaminy School District (School District) has violated the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA).  I also concur with the proposed Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Opinion, Recommendation and Final Order submitted by the Permanent Hearing Examiner as they relate to the '…inappropriate stereotypical use of logos and imagery of Native Americans…' (See p. 49 – Recommendation Of Permanent Hearing Examiner) within the School District and the harm they cause by their continued use in violation of the PHRA."  His statement continues, "However, as set forth below, and also after a thorough review of the evidence of record in this case in light of the applicable law, I dissent from the conclusion that because the Commission, as Complainant, '…failed to present sufficient evidence that a Native American student or students were harmed by the use of the word Redskin and the associated logos and imagery,…' [that] "…this portion of the PHRC complaint should be dismissed." (See: p. 34 – Opinion of Permanent Hearing Examiner).  In Hardiman's view: "The term "Redskin" is, and for a number of years, has been recognized as a racial slur.  The continuing use by the School District[1] of the term "Redskins", along with the continuing use of various logos and imagery related to Native Americans as a part of its student environment, constitutes a "per se" act of unlawful discrimination in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act in the same way that the use of any other recognized racial slur in the same manner as the School District currently uses the term "Redskin" would constitute a "per se" violation of the Act."

*supporting documentation available upon request

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