City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle was joined on June 12 by civil rights and faith leaders at Freedom Corner in the Hill District to speak out against UPMC’s inappropriate use of the 14th amendment in its suit against the City’s challenge of its charitable status. Standing on the historic site that has served as a meeting point for marches, demonstration protests, and celebrations that promote racial justice and civil rights, the Councilman questioned UPMC’s tactics of seeking protection under the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed rights for freed slaves after the Civil War.
Together with Councilman Lavelle, speakers included County Councilwoman Amanda Green Hawkins, Fred Redmond of the United Steelworkers, UPMC worker Leslie Poston, and long-time civil rights activist Joni Rabinowitz. All questioned UPMC’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment, which was written to provide equal protection and due process for people who face discrimination, as similarly applying to major corporations. The tone deaf strategy is offensive and disrespectful of the real historic civil rights struggles faced by our vulnerable populations which the 14th Amendment is intended to protect.
The outrage over UPMC’s attempt to use a law meant to protect the most vulnerable in our society in order to avoid being held accountable for practices that hurt those very same communities was palpable in the audience. Councilman Lavelle noted his disbelief over the suit’s filing under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, a provision of federal law first adopted as part of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, and whose purpose was to protect African Americans against racist violence. It displays a startling lack of sensitivity and awareness as to the very real social issues the law was written to address. The irony is brought into even starker relief when taking into consideration how UPMC’s tax status inevitably hurts communities of color and underserved communities, by robbing Pittsburgh of vital tax dollars, closing down hospitals in underserved areas and opening them in more affluent areas, and cracking down on employees who speak up for fair pay and respect on the job.
UPMC, the same healthcare conglomerate that claimed it wasn’t an employer to avoid its responsibilities to workers, seems to be using its lawsuit to dodge the question of whether it qualifies as a “purely public charity” deserving of tax exemptions. The Councilman stands strongly against their attempts to warp the interpretation of the 14th Amendment in their suit against the City’s legal challenge of its charitable status.