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January 23, 2017

Mayor Kenney signs wage equity bill guarding salary history in Philly

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed a pending wage equity law on Monday that will prevent Philadelphia employers from asking job applicants to disclose their salary history, a measure intended to prevent discrimination and ensure equal pay for women and minorities.

The new policy, unanimously passed by City Council in December, will make Philadelphia the first city in the United States to bar employers from asking prospective employees to share their previous income.

At the time of the bill's passage, Mayor Kenney immediately signaled his intent to sign it into law, but a month went by without any action. The bill's sponsor, Councilman-at-Large Bill Greenlee, defended the legislation and said he expected Kenney to follow through on his support.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that Comcast senior Vice President David L. Cohen and Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce CEO Rob Wonderling had sent a 25-page memo to the city's law department urging officials to think twice before signing the bill or risk potential liability for costly attorney's fees in the event of a hypothetical legal challenge.

On Monday, Mayor Kenney signed the bill and provided the following statement:

The Law Department has thoroughly reviewed the legal concerns raised by the business community, and is confident that the law would withstand a challenge and the City would prevail. I want to thank Councilman Greenlee for his unwavering leadership on this issue. This debate gave me and my Administration time to more fully hear the concerns of the business community, which were more related to the general perception that local laws and regulations burden businesses, not on the bill’s intent to combat wage inequity. 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. This doesn’t need to be an either/or argument--what is good for the people of Philadelphia is good for business too.

Two local law professors expressed doubt that opponents of the ordinance could successfully mount a legal challenge to the policy, particularly because the argument laid out in the memo rests on a commercial application of the First Amendment. The professors called the document an "arrogant" and "insidious" move to kill an initiative whose aim is to promote fairness and eliminate prejudice in the local job market.

The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce issued its own statement about the new law, saying it hurts job growth and business recruitment efforts. It reads, in part:

"With today’s signing of a salary history bill, the City of Philadelphia continues its record of passing legislation that hurts job growth and business expansion. While this bill is supposedly an attempt to improve wage equity, there is in fact no evidence whatsoever that asking prospective employees about their current compensation contributes in any way to wage inequities. Unfortunately, the City government has rejected a proposal by the business community to discuss and enact a real wage equity ordinance.

“While the Chamber is deeply committed to highly diverse and inclusive workplaces and will not tolerate wage inequity, we believe passage of this measure says Philadelphia is not open for business,” said Chamber President and CEO Rob Wonderling. “Philadelphia has a reputation around the country and world for having a high cost of doing business. With this bill, we have reinforced our unfortunate anti-business reputation of having a City government that tells companies how to run their business.

"As a matter of policy, the Chamber stands against discrimination in any way on the basis of gender in the payment of wages, or to pay any person a salary or wage rate less than the rates paid to employees of a different gender for comparable work, provided that variation in wages are not prohibited due to seniority, and that seniority is not affected by pregnancy-related conditions, protected parental, or family and medical leave; commission-based systems; geography and/or education, training or experience; or travel.

"This ordinance does not result in wage equity. Nor does it provide any evidence to suggest that removing this question from the hiring process results in wage equity.”

With Kenney's signature official, the law will take effect in 120 days.