Thomas K. Gilhool

Thomas Gilhool, JD, is a retired staff attorney from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP). He has been the lead attorney in precedent-setting lawsuits on behalf of people with disabilities. Gilhool was an attorney with PILCOP for 27 years. He retired in 2006 after being active in the public interest community for 41 years.

While serving as consumer advocate and director of law reform at Community Legal Services during the late 1960s, Gilhool won the first legal services case to reach the United States Supreme Court, Smith v. Reynolds, in which the Court struck down the durational residency requirement for public assistance benefits.

Gilhool's accomplishments also include his pioneering representation of plaintiffs in PARC v. Commonwealth, which established the constitutional right of children with disabilities to a free, appropriate public education. This decision was the source of the first federal civil rights acts in this area: Section 504 of the Civil Rights Act of 1973 and what is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In 1990 Gilhool developed a coalition of legal services organizations to enforce a new provision of the Social Security Act, which required states receiving federal funds to provide basic health care to children enrolled in Medicaid. The ensuing litigation led to the additional enrollment of 300,000 children in Pennsylvania.

In 2003 he received a senior Fulbright Fellowship in Japan and brought together Japanese a nd American advocates for disability rights to consider how each country could build on the success of the other. He then participated in the United Nations drafting of a convention on rights of persons with disabilities. Gilhool is also the first Philadelphian to have served as secretary of education for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Lehigh University, Yale University and Yale Law School.

Conference Years:


Conference Participation

2010 Conference