Equal Opportunity and Diversity Committee

Chaired by Kathy Gomez, Esq., the main priority of the Equal Opportunity and Diversity Committee is to promote diversity and inclusion within the legal profession and address discriminatory conduct within the Commonwealth’s justice system. 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.

PA Attorney Demographics: In 2018, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania 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. Since then, each year, the Committee receives the demographic data collected by the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board (“PDB”) and produces a one-page graphic summary of the data (several of which are posted at right). The Committee then distributes the summary, along with the full PDB Report, to bar associations, President Judges, and advocacy organizations throughout the Commonwealth.

UJS Policy on Non-Discrimination and EEO: Soon after it was established in 2005, the Commission began the process of implementing one of the first recommendations from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Report on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System – the drafting of a non-discrimination policy for the Pennsylvania court system. Working in collaboration with the Commission’s first Chair, Chief Justice Ralph Cappy, and the AOPC, the Commission produced the UJS Policy on Non-Discrimination and EEO and accompanying complaint procedures in 2007, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania approved it the same year. Since then, the Committee has been distributing the policy and complaint procedures during Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) and other programs and is now drafting a one-page summary of the policy and complaint process that will be distributed to judges, court personnel, attorneys and court users throughout the Commonwealth.

PA Judicial and Attorney Ethics Codes: Following the establishment of the UJS Policy, the Commission began work on a related recommendation – the amendment of the Judicial Conduct Code and the Rules of Professional Conduct to prohibit discrimination and bias by judges and attorneys in the course of performing their legal duties. In June 2013, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania approved amendments proposed by the Committee to Pennsylvania’s Judicial Conduct Code.

After six more years of advocacy by the Commission and other organizations, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania approved a similar provision in the Rules of Professional Conduct in June 2020 – Rule 8.4(g). Enforcement of this rule was enjoined by a federal court following a legal challenge to it, but in August 2021, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania adopted the current amended version. A legal challenge has been initiated against this version as well, but the rule, as amended, remains on the Supreme Court Disciplinary Board’s website.

Diversity & Inclusion Training and Education: In 2017, 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 since then, has used it in connection with educational sessions the Commission has conducted for Pennsylvania’s judges and court administrators. The Committee has also conducted training sessions for women interested in running for judicial office as a part of the Ready to Run program sponsored by Chatham University’s Running for Office trainings each year. In addition, 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.

Conducting Implicit Bias Training: Commission members and Executive Director Lisette McCormick have presented numerous CLE courses on implicit bias, including a new program, entitled “Objection: An Interactive Educational Experience on Diversity and Bias Issues in the Legal Profession.” In March 2019, the Committee also published and distributed a guide (attached at right) entitled “Demonstrating Respect, Neutrality, and Fairness: Guidelines for the Pennsylvania Courts,” which is intended to be used in training programs for judges, court staff, and attorneys as a guide for their own conduct and to address bias by others within the legal profession and the courts.

Updating Law School Curricula: In 2019, the Committee established an Implicit Bias in Legal Education Work Group, comprised of deans and administrators from each of Pennsylvania’s law schools. The Committee convenes quarterly meetings of the group with the goal of 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 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. Chief Justice Saylor then requested that the AOPC and Continuing Judicial Education (“CJE”) Board of Judges issue 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.

In tandem with the Pennsylvania Bar Association (“PBA”), the Committee has also submitted letters (attached at right) to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, suggesting that it require lawyers to take an annual CLE course on diversity, inclusion, and anti-bias training. The Pennsylvania CLE Board recommended that the Court require this training, but to the Committee’s knowledge, the request is still under consideration by the Court.

Providing Comments on Proposed State Procedural Rules: In October 2020, the Committee submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Civil Procedural Rules Committee formal comments on a proposal 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 Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Rules of Evidence, aimed to 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, supported the proposal with minor changes. The Final Rule was approved by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on August 11, 2021, and it took effect on October 1, 2021.

Legislative Initiatives: In response to reports of long-standing, pervasive acts of sexual harassment within Pennsylvania’s legislative branch, the Committee submitted letters (attached at right) in support of bills introduced during the last legislative session that would have created uniform, internal procedures for filing, investigating, and adjudicating sexual harassment complaints within the state legislature. Unfortunately, the bills did not pass either chamber, but the Committee is working with other interested parties to reformulate a strategy to produce a strong policy prohibiting harassment within the legislative branch.

Diversifying Appointments: Early in its history, the Commission provided all Pennsylvania judicial districts with uniform model appointment procedures and best practices (attached at right) that ensure the broadest opportunities for all interested parties to seek and obtain appointments by the courts. The Committee is also working with the Governor’s office to recommend ways to increase the diversity of candidates selected for judicial appointment.

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.

Members

  • Katherine J. Gomez, Esquire (Chair)
  • Judge Kim Berkeley Clark
  • Homer Floyd, Esquire
  • Trent Hargrove, Esquire
  • Jessie Louise Smith, Esquire
  • Judge Doris Smith-Ribner
  • Catherine Volponi, Esquire
  • Samuel Yun, Esquire

Reports