Kenney signs bill banning Philly employers from asking for wage history

 (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Philadelphia has officially become the first city in the nation to forbid employers from asking prospective hires salary-history questions, a move aimed at fighting the gap between what women and men earn for the same work.

On Monday, Mayor Jim Kenney signed the bill into law, which will start to take effect May 23. 

Kenney’s signature follows rumblings of displeasure from a coalition of Philadelphia employers, including Comcast Corp., which have argued that the bill is anti-business and violates their First Amendment right to free speech.

Kenney said he is confident the law can withstand any legal challenge. 

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“I know that Comcast and the business community are committed to ending wage discrimination, and I’m hopeful that moving forward we can have a better partnership on this and other issues of concern to business owners and their employees,” Kenney said in a statement. “This doesn’t need to be an either/or argument — what is good for the people of Philadelphia is good for business too.”

Although no other city has enacted a law barring employers from asking potential hires about salary history, Massachusetts, in August 2016, became the first state to prohibit employers from inquiring about an applicant’s previous pay as a way to disrupt the cycle of lower salaries women earn.

In Pennsylvania, women are paid 79 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to Census figures. And African-American women are paid 68 for every dollar paid to a man.

Advocates of the measure, including Marianne Bellesorte with the anti-poverty group PathWays, said that the mayor signing the bill into law is a step forward for supporters of pay equity.

“We think this law is a good way to help women and minorities to bridge this gap so that any pay inequity in a previous job does not continue into the next one,” Bellesort said.

Attorney Miguel Estrada, who was hired by Comcast, wrote a letter to Kenney last month imploring him to veto the bill, which passed Philadelphia City Council unanimously after being introduced by Councilman Bill Greenlee, who said if companies keep basing salary on past pay, inequity will be perpetuated. 

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, a co-sponsor of the bill, added that: “We do not just want pay equity for women, but we want pay equity for families, for our city and for this nation.”

Estrada, by contrast, said there is no evidence that the law would narrow the gender pay gap. He said the law could make the city vulnerable to a costly legal challenge.

Reached by email on Monday, Estrada was noncommittal about a lawsuit. “I have no further comment at this time,” he wrote.

In a legal opinion sent to Kenney, City Solicitor Sozi Tulante described Estrada’s First Amendment argument as “baseless.”

“There is ample precedent in other area of law for prohibiting such inquiries, in service of societal interests, including preventing employment discrimination,” Tulante wrote in the opinion. 

The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia expressed dismay over Kenney’s signature. The group said the law is part of a trend of ordinances the city has passed that are bad for business, including increasing city contractor minimum wages to $12 and the city’s mandatory paid sick leave legislation.

“Tragically, we are finding that when global enterprises are looking to locate their business in America, Philadelphia is quickly falling off the list,” said Rob Wonderling, who heads the group.

“The cumulative effect of city ordinances restricting businesses is having a negative impact on job growth in Philadelphia. In addition, existing businesses located in the city will begin to look elsewhere as they plan for job growth,” he said. 

Comcast said other Philadelphia-area employers view the law as anti-business, but would not name any of other members of the coalition that oppose the measure. 

A prospective hire can still share salary history voluntarily, but if an employer demands it, it can now trigger a $2,000 fine per violation. The Commission on Human Relations would levy the penalty.

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