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Philly employers can't ask your pay history anymore

Philadelphia is the first city in the nation that prohibits employers from asking about a job applicant's prior earnings.

Mayor Kenney signed the Wage Equity Law on Monday, after City Solicitor Sozi Tulante issued an 11-page opinion arguing for the legality of the ban. The law was created to bridge the gender pay gap.

Kenney said last week that he would sign the legislation despite warnings from the business community — prominently including Comcast Corp. — which said the city could face a legal challenge. He held off initially after a lawyer for Comcast sent a memo to the city solicitor claiming that the bill violated the First Amendment.

"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," Kenney said in a statement.

Kenney thanked the bill's sponsor, Councilman William K. Greenlee, who pushed the measure as a way to combat wage discrimination against women and minorities. Kenney said the business concerns he heard "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," Kenney said. "This doesn't need to be an either-or argument - what is good for the people of Philadelphia is good for business, too."

The bill will become law May 23.

The Chamber of Commerce fired off a response saying that there was little evidence the bill would bridge the wage divide and that more prohibitions on employers would only drive away businesses.

"Philadelphia has a reputation around the country and world for having a high cost of doing business," said Chamber president and CEO Rob Wonderling. "With this bill, we have reinforced our unfortunate anti-business reputation of having a city government that tells companies how to run their business."

Wonderling said that the chamber stands against wage discrimination but that there is no proof banning questions about salary help solve the problem.

The bill, which passed Council in December by a 16-0 vote, makes it illegal for employers to ask about previous salaries or to retaliate against a prospective employee for refusing to answer.

Applicants who think the law has been broken can file a complaint within 300 days with 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 legal fees.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. Proponents of wage-gap legislation  say the problem only gets worse as a person moves from job to job and gets asked about the previous salary.

Staff writer Tricia L. Nadolny contributed to this article.