UPMC suit sparks protest over 14th Amendment

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Pittsburgh City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle Wednesday morning led a protest of UPMC's reliance on the 14th Amendment in its suit against the city of Pittsburgh.

Roughly 70 union members, community activists and other city residents gathered at Freedom Corner in the Hill district to speak out against the legal basis of UPMC's complaint, which was filed in April and alleges that the city's challenge to healthcare giant's tax-exempt status violates the organization's constitutional rights of due process and equal protection under the law.

"It is appalling that you would have an amendment which granted former slaves citizenship and protects the rights of people being used and abused by a corporation to protect their dominance," said Amanda Green-Hawkins, Allegheny County councilwoman and assistant general counsel for the United Steelworkers Union.

Community leaders, residents protest UPMC actions

Union members, civil rights activists and residents gathered this morning to protest UPMC's reliance on the Fourteenth Amendment in its suit against the city of Pittsburgh. (Video by Nate Guidry; 6/12/2013)

At the intersection of Centre Avenue and Crawford Street in the Hill District, Mr. Lavelle presented an open letter signed by 12 civil rights attorneys that criticizes the countersuit's reliance on civil rights statutes. The UPMC case was filed, the letter notes, under Section 1983, a federal statute part of the Civil Rights Acts of 1871 that enforces the 14th Amendment.

Fred Redmond, United Steelworkers international vice president, said that while UPMC has the right to go to court, its claim of discrimination is an "affront to many of our ancestors."

"This attack on the 14th Amendment is not just an attack on people of color," Mr. Lavelle said. "It should be offensive to all of us who fight for both human rights and civil rights and a better quality of life within this city."

But UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said Wednesday afternoon that the Constitution protects the rights of everyone, including UPMC.

"Councilman Lavelle certainly doesn't get to randomly and arbitrarily decide which organizations the constitution does and does not apply to," Mr. Wood said, calling Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's challenge of UPMC's tax-exempt status "a clear violation of law and an abuse of his authority."

The 14th Amendment, which was adopted in the aftermath of the civil war, extended citizenship to all people born in the United States.

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Gavan Gideon: ggideon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4910. First Published June 12, 2013 3:30 PM


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