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The Interbranch Commission implements recommendations from the Report of The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial, and Gender Bias in The Justice System. View the Report

Equal Opportunity and
Diversity Committee

Chaired by Kathy Gomez, Esq., the main priority of the Equal Opportunity and Diversity Committee is to improve the legal profession and the Commonwealth’s justice system by promoting diversity and inclusion. The Committee’s current initiatives include:

  • conducting implicit bias and diversity training sessions for judges, lawyers, and other court personnel;
  • creating and improving court policies relating to diversity and inclusion;
  • advocating for amendments to attorney and judicial codes of conduct to prevent harassment and discrimination in the profession;
  • increasing diversity in court appointments; and
  • addressing discrimination on the basis of the intersection of race and gender.

Training and Education: The Committee produced and widely distributed an extensive diversity manual,   Creating a Diverse Workforce in the Pennsylvania Courts: A Manual for Success to all of the Commonwealth's judicial districts, and conducts educational sessions for Pennsylvania’s judges and court administrators based upon the manual. The Committee additionally supports the inclusion of implicit bias training in Pennsylvania law schools, in CLE courses for lawyers, and in Continuing Judicial Education (CJE) programming, and is working to make such training mandatory for all attorneys and judicial officers. The Committee continues to regularly collaborate with law schools and bar associations to conduct yearly programming on the intersection of race and gender in the law. For more information on these initiatives, please see below.

Improving Court Policies: In connection with its successful effort to have the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopt a system-wide Policy on Non-Discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity, the Committee continues to advocate for education relating to the policy and complaint procedures. To that end, the Committee is drafting a one-page summary of the policy and complaint process that will be distributed to both court users and staff throughout the Commonwealth.

Additionally, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted the Committee’s suggestion to add a voluntary demographic check-off box to the annual attorney registration form, thereby establishing a baseline for diversity efforts throughout the Commonwealth. The Committee subsequently created and widely distributed a one-page summary of the voluntary demographic data (attached at right) that was collected from the registration forms submitted in 2018 and 2019. The data revealed that although the percentage of White and Non-White attorneys remained the same in 2018 and 2019, the number of Non-White attorneys increased in 2019. The Committee is now working to draft and distribute a similar summary of the demographic data collected by the Court in 2020.

Amending Conduct Rules: In June 2013, the Supreme Court approved the amendments to Pennsylvania's Judicial Conduct Code proposed by the Committee, which prohibit judges from engaging in discrimination and harassment in the course of legal proceedings. The amendments to the Code are set forth at right, under “Reports.” After six more years of additional advocacy by the Commission and other organizations, the PA Supreme Court approved in June 2020 a similar provision in the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys (see attachments at right). Shortly thereafter, however, the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board, requesting, on free speech grounds, that the Court grant an injunction barring enforcement of the Rule. The District Court subsequently granted that motion, preventing enforcement of the Rule as proposed. The Committee then collaborated with the Pennsylvania Bar Association and other stakeholders to draft an amicus brief in support of an appeal, but the appeal was withdrawn before submission. The Disciplinary Board is now charged with making modifications to the original version of the Rule, and the Committee is seeking to ensure that the Board provides the opportunity to submit comments on the new proposal so that the new Rule effectively accomplishes the purpose for which it was originally drafted.

Conducting Implicit Bias Training: In tandem with the PBA, the Committee has also devoted many hours to advocating for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to require lawyers to take an annual course on diversity, inclusion, and anti-bias training. The Court responded to the Committee by asking the Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) Board for a recommendation on this request. The CLE Board ultimately recommended that the Court require this training, which is currently under consideration by the Court.

In the meantime, Commission members and Executive Director Lisette McCormick have presented numerous CLE courses on implicit bias over the past couple of years, including a new program, entitled “Objection: An Interactive Educational Experience on Diversity and Bias Issues in the Legal Profession,” that was presented to the PBA’s Labor and Employment Law Section in March 2021. In March 2019, the Committee also published and distributed a guide entitled “Demonstrating Respect, Neutrality, and Fairness: Guidelines for the Pennsylvania Courts,” which is intended to be used in training exercises for judges, court staff, and attorneys to address bias within the legal profession and the courts. The guide is attached at right, under Reports. The Commission also continues to convene meetings of its Implicit Bias in Legal Education Work Group, comprised of deans and administrators from each of Pennsylvania’s law schools with whom the Committee is collaborating on drafting a multi-faceted implicit bias training program that the law schools will integrate into their curricula.

Advocating for Mandatory Anti-Discrimination Training for Judges and Court Employees: After learning of numerous recent occurrences of discriminatory judicial misconduct, the Committee sent a letter (attached at right) to then-Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor in September 2020, advising him of the incidents and urging the Court to require all state jurists and judicial employees to undergo annual, mandatory anti-discrimination training. At the request of then-Chief Justice Saylor, the AOPC and CJE Board of Judges were charged with issuing a recommendation to the Court on whether such training is needed and whether it should be mandatory. The Committee is awaiting this decision and continues to monitor the issue closely.

Providing Comments on Proposed State Procedural Rules: In October 2020, the Committee submitted to two Supreme Court Committees formal comments on two proposed rules. The first rule, proposed by the PA Supreme Court Civil Procedural Rules Committee, seeks to amend state rules governing requests by indigent litigants to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). In its comments, attached at right, the Committee supported a portion of the amendments while opposing others, including the proposal to eliminate pro bono attorneys’ ability to file an IFP praecipe on behalf of their clients, and other provisions making it more difficult for indigent litigants to secure and benefit from IFP status. To date, the Rules Committee has not taken further action on the proposal, but the Committee is monitoring the issue closely.

The second proposal, proposed by the PA Supreme Court Committee on Rules of Evidence, would establish a new evidentiary rule, as recommended by the Commission, that would limit the admissibility of immigration status into evidence during litigation. The Committee’s comments (attached at right) are generally supportive of this new rule, but also suggest (1) adding guidelines governing how the admissibility of immigration status will be determined and (2) providing additional means to safeguard the privacy of such information. Although no action has been taken subsequent to the Committee’s request for comments, the Committee continues to monitor this proposal closely.

Legislative Initiatives: In response to the pervasive acts of sexual harassment that have permeated Pennsylvania’s legislative branch for years, the Committee submitted letters (attached at right) in support of bills during the last legislative session that would have created uniform, internal procedures for filing, investigating, and adjudicating sexual harassment complaints within the state legislature. Because these bills did not become law, the Committee is reformulating its strategy to produce a strong policy prohibiting harassment within the legislative branch.

Diversifying Appointments: The Committee provided all Pennsylvania judicial districts with uniform model appointment procedures and best practices that ensure the broadest opportunities for all interested parties to seek and obtain appointments by the courts.  The Committee’s letter that was sent to all judicial districts outlining the essential elements of model procedures is set forth at right, under “Reports.” As the Committee remains concerned with the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among the judiciary, the Committee is working with the Governor’s office to recommend ways to increase the diversity of judicial appointment candidates.

The Committee's past initiatives include:

  • conducting training sessions for women interested in running for judicial office;
  • researching and conducting training for judges and attorneys on eliminating implicit bias from the courts and larger legal profession; and
  • other initiatives outlined in Chapter Eight of the Final Report of the Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System.