About Us

Practice Areas


Partnerships

Partnerships are at the heart of work. We partner with our clients to bring class action lawsuits, conduct policy advocacy, organize advocates and offer community education. We work with community groups, advocacy organizations, other public interest law firms, private law firms, and colleges and law schools to expand our capacity. We do not charge our clients.


History

1969
Led by Edwin D. (Ned) Wolf, the organization opens its doors as a local affiliate of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

1970
Our first case – Shannon v. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - establishes that HUD must assess the disproportionate racial impact of its projects

1970
The Law Center begins its first studies of police misconduct

1971
Thomas K. Gilhool (Law Center Chief Counsel 1975-2005) files the seminal lawsuit Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which secured the legal right to education for children with disabilities

1974
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia is officially incorporated by five past and then-present Chancellors of the Philadelphia Bar Association

1975
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is passed as a result of the court decree we secured in PARC v. Commonwealth

1975
We intervene in Halderman v. Pennhurst to make it the first case in the nation to close a segregated residential institution for people with disabilities and replace it with community-based, integrated services. We bring or support similar cases in seven other states during the next 30 years

1970s and 1980s
We litigate the Philadelphia Police Department’s discriminatory hiring practices, increasing diversity on the force and employment opportunities for African Americans, Hispanics and women

1970s and 1980s
We release reports on police misconduct and use of deadly force resulting in changed practices

1978
The EEOC calls our training and referral program for employment discrimination cases the best in the country. One result is three successful class actions on behalf of thousands of African Americans denied employment or promotions at steel companies

1979
Jerry Balter leads our environmental justice practice representing communities in cleaning up or closing dozens of trash incinerators, sewage treatment plants, and industrial facilities, and forcing adoption of automobile pollution inspection in Pennsylvania

1981
We write and help pass Philadelphia’s Community Right-to-Know ordinance, the first of its kind, which grants citizens the right to know what toxic chemicals are in their neighborhoods, and then a similar state-wide law in New Jersey, leading to Congress passing the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).

1990s
In partnership with communities in Camden, NJ and Chester, PA we bring two of the first civil rights lawsuits to challenge discriminatory environmental permitting practices in low-income minority communities. EPA conducts its first cumulative impact study at our request

1991
We intervene in the desegregation lawsuit brought against the School District of Philadelphia, and through the case help establish full-day kindergarten, reduced class sizes in elementary grades, strengthened curriculum, and took steps to equalize teacher quality

1991
We begin a series of successful class action lawsuits against state Medicaid officials in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oklahoma and Florida, for failing to ensure that low-income children have access to prompt, high-quality health care — a requirement of federal Medicaid law

1993
Through Oberti v. Board of Education we establish inclusion in regular education classrooms as the presumptive right of children with disabilities

1997-98
We bring challenges against Pennsylvania’s inadequate and discriminatory school funding through Marrero v. Commonwealth and Powell v. Ridge. Although unsuccessful, they formed the basis for later advocacy efforts

2005
We settle Gaskin v. Commonwealth, a special education case which overhauled Pennsylvania’s system for complying with federal law on including students with disabilities in regular classes, improving the quality of education for thousands of students with disabilities

2010
We roll out a new strategic plan, focusing our efforts in the areas of education, employment, housing, environmental justice, health care and voting

2011
We launch the Garden Justice Legal Initiative to support community gardens and market farms in Philadelphia

2012
For the first time , the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejects the state’s legislative redistricting maps and orders the maps redrawn after we file a lawsuit on behalf of a piano teacher from Allentown

2014
We are part of the team which defeats Pennsylvania’s discriminatory voter identification law, which would have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters

2015
We rebrand as the Public Interest Law Center and unveil a new logo

2015
We help residents in the Eastwick neighborhood of Philadelphia regain control of 135-acres of land and establish a community-led planning process following decades of disinvestment caused by the nation’s largest redevelopment program in the 1950s

2016
We settle our 10-year-old Medicaid case in Florida, securing increased access to health and dental care for 1.9 million children