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Council bill would bar employers from seeking salary history

Aiming to close the pay gap between men and women, Philadelphia City Council will consider barring employers from asking applicants how much they made in previous jobs.

Aiming to close the pay gap between men and women, Philadelphia City Council will consider barring employers from asking applicants how much they made in previous jobs.

Advocates say such legislation targets a persistent problem: women and minorities receiving low wages in their first jobs that follow them into the future.

"It's just fair to pay people for what the job is worth, not for what they had been paid in the past," said Councilman William K. Greenlee, who will introduce the legislation. "Is past salary really a true consideration? It should be based on what the job is and what the person's experience and abilities are."

The legislation mirrors a bill passed this summer in Massachusetts, the first such law.

The effort has spurred other spin-offs, including a bill introduced in the Pennsylvania statehouse last week and one introduced in August in New York City. Federal legislation was introduced in the House earlier this month.

Gender pay inequality is taking a more prominent spot on the national stage. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has repeatedly raised the subject, making it a central theme of her campaign. Republican nominee Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka, in her speech at this summer's Republican National Convention, heralded her father's support of equal pay.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make 79 cents for every dollar made by men. The divide is less severe but still substantial in Philadelphia, according to a 2015 review by the American Association of University Women, which found women in the two congressional districts that encompass the city make 88 percent and 90 percent of what men make. In the districts that represent the suburbs surrounding Philadelphia, the disparity ranges from 78 percent to 87 percent.

Proponents of wage-gap legislation say the problem starts with women being paid less than men in their first job, creating an inequality maintained when they are asked to state their salary histories when applying for new jobs.

"Basing compensation on an applicant's prior wages instead of the value of the work perpetuates and amplifies the wage gap, which typically widens as women get older," said Terry L. Fromson, managing attorney at the Pennsylvania Women's Law Project.

Fromson said the wage gap is more acute for minorities, "which makes this legislation especially important in diverse cities like Philadelphia."

Greenlee's legislation would bar employers not just from asking about salary history but from seeking out that information on their own. Pay information, for example, is accessible online for many government employees.

Applicants who think the law has been broken could file a complaint within 300 days to the city's Commission on Human Relations, which would have the ability to fine employers $2,000 and order them to pay other damages, including the applicant's attorneys' fees.

Kate Hagedorn, director of civic affairs for the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber was reaching out to its members for input on the proposed law and declined to comment. The state legislation was introduced last week by Reps. Maria Donatucci and Donna Bullock, Democrats whose districts include parts of Philadelphia. That bill would bar questions about salary history while also making it illegal for employers to prohibit employees from discussing their salaries with one another, a restriction that could keep workers in the dark about pay inequalities.

Greenlee said he plans to pursue the city legislation despite the state bill because he thinks it could have a better chance of gaining traction in a city like Philadelphia than statewide. He pointed to the city's legislation requiring employers to provide paid sick leave and creating an office to investigate wage theft, both efforts led by his office.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with us pursuing this," Greenlee said. "And if in the end we pass this law and later the state passes it or, even better, the whole country passes it, beautiful."

215-854-2730 @TriciaNadolny