Discriminatory Hiring in Philadelphia Police Department


Commonwealth v O’Neill

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania brought this class action in 1970, alleging that the Philadelphia Police Department’s hiring and promotion policies discriminated illegally against Black applicants and officers. We intervened on behalf of the Guardian Civic League.

The suit challenged the use of a written exam that disproportionately eliminated minority applicants and had never been shown to accurately predict performance as a police officer. (The exam was also used to evaluate officers for promotions.) In addition, the lawsuit argued that the Department used discriminatory background checks and evaluations to disqualify Black applicants.

After gathering evidence, the plaintiffs asked the court to stop the discriminatory hiring practices while the case continued. The judge agreed and ordered the Police Department to ensure that the proportion of African American new hires at least equaled the proportion of African American applicants. Soon after, the city decided to settle the lawsuit. In the resulting consent decree, the city agreed to adopt non-discriminatory hiring policies and to develop new evaluations proven to accurately predict job performance.