Chamber of Commerce Lobs Lawsuit at Philly Over Wage Equity Law

The law burdens businesses and violates their First Amendment rights, the Chamber claims.

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Back in January, Comcast threatened to sue the City of Philadelphia over its wage equity bill and now, just a month before the law is to take effect, Greater Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce has picked up where Comcast left off.

On Thursday, the Chamber filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia over its new law that bans employers from asking job applicants what they’ve earned in the past.

Chamber president and CEO Rob Wonderling,who’s been vocal in opposition to the regulation, is seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the city from enforcing the ordinance.

According to Wonderling, the law is an impediment to the business community and solidifies Philadelphia’s anti-business reputation. The law will make it more difficult for business to recruit a skilled workforce and the vagueness of the law can leave businesses subject to “civil and criminal penalties,” he said in a statement. The Chamber’s case also rests on a First Amendment claim, which Comcast first presented: The law violates employers’ free speech by prohibiting them from asking about wage history.

Introduced by Councilman Bill Greenlee, the wage equity bill passed through City Council unanimously and got Mayor Kenney’s signature, making Philadelphia the first city to pass legislation of this kind. The law’s purpose is to narrow the wage gap by curbing discrimination during the hiring process.

City spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said she’s confident the law will be upheld. The city’s legal department inspected the legislation before Kenney signed it into law. The wage bill is also under attack by state legislators who are currently moving a bill that would preempt Philly’s wage law.

As for the lawsuit’s First Amendment claim, the city will have to meet a very high standard, Rutgers-Camden law professor Stacy Hawkins told us. They’ll have to prove that the law’s limit on free speech addresses a significant interest. And whether the law will achieve its intended end is still left to be seen. Wharton professor Peter Cappelli has said that the law’s unintended consequences will actually end up hurting women.

Other locales like New York City have also recently moved forward with pay equity legislation. With no injunction from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia’s law will take effect on May 23.

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