Philly Just Lost Its Chance to Be the First to Enforce a Wage Equity Law

Another city stole our shine. Will Philly ever get to take a stand against the pay gap?

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA downtown city skyline. Sean Pavone | iStock

Though Philadelphia was the first city to sign wage equity legislation, it lost its chance to be the country’s first city to actually enforce it. That title went to New York City at the beginning of the month when it passed a law that bans all public and private employers from asking about a candidate’s pay history.

Philadelphia’s law was supposed to take effect May 23 this year, following Mayor Kenney’s approval back in January, but the city halted enforcement due to a lawsuit from the Chamber of Commerce. I last reported on the lawsuit in June after a judge threw out the Chamber’s legal challenge. But the organization submitted an amended complaint soon after and claimed that Philly institutions like CHOP, Comcast and Drexel would be harmed by the law.

So what’s the status of the ordinance now? According to the city, both parties have completed all briefing regarding the Chamber’s motion to preliminarily enjoin the law and presently awaiting a decision from the court. And there could be further proceedings depending on the court’s decision.

“We believe the legislation is lawful and the law department intends to fully defend it as this lawsuit plays out,” city spokesman Mike Dunn told me. “They have thoroughly reviewed the legal concerns of the business community, and the administration is confident that the law will withstand this challenge.”

The Chamber of Commerce said it could not comment on the status of the lawsuit.

Similar laws are popping up all over the country. Puerto Rico, California and Massachusetts have each banned all kinds of employers from asking about a candidate’s pay history and their laws take effect in 2018. Delaware has also banned the question — its law will go into effect sooner in December 2017. Wage history questions will be illegal in Oregon beginning in 2019. On the city level, both New Orleans and Pittsburgh have pay equity laws already in effect as of early to mid 2017, but they only ban wage history inquiries at city departments and agencies.

Philly’s law aims to reduce the impact of historical salary discrimination, but some business community members leading the backlash say it is not the answer to closing the gender wage gap. Supporters of the law have said its necessary since workers can’t count on the city’s businesses to do the right thing. Others have said that while the law looks good on paper, it might actually lead to unintended consequences that ultimately hurt women.

Dunn says the debate over the law has actually given the Kenney administration a chance to more fully hear the concerns of the business community, and not just to this measure but also to other laws that some consider burdensome.

“We know that Chamber members are committed to ending wage discrimination, and we are hopeful that moving forward we can have a better partnership on this and other issues of concern to business owners and their employees.”