On December 8, 2016, the Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a citywide wage equity ordinance that, once signed, will prohibit employers from inquiring into applicants’ wage histories. Mayor Jim Kenny has already signaled his support for the bill, which is expected to take effect 120 days after its eventual signing.
Influenced by the passage of a statewide wage gap law in Massachusetts earlier this year, Councilman Bill Greenlee sponsored the wage equity ordinance, which amends the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance to prohibit employers from asking about an applicant’s wage history at any stage in the hiring process. With this ordinance, Philadelphia becomes the first U.S. city to ban employers from asking job applicants for their salary histories—a move that supporters believe will narrow the wage gap for women and minorities.
As stated in the findings section of the bill, the U.S. Census Bureau found, in 2015, that women in Pennsylvania earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man, which amounts to a median annual wage gap of $10,507. According to the Census Bureau, among minorities, African-American women are paid 68 cents, Latinas are paid 56 cents, and Asian women are paid 81 cents for every dollar paid to men. Proponents of the wage equity ordinance believe that banning employers from asking job applicants to disclose their salary histories will narrow the wage gap.
The ordinance makes it unlawful “for an employer, employment agency, or employee or agent thereof” to “inquire about a prospective employee’s wage history, require disclosure of wage history, or condition employment or consideration for an interview or employment on disclosure of wage history.” The ordinance also makes it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against a prospective employee for failing to comply with any wage history inquiry.
An applicant, however, will remain free to disclose his or her wage history to a prospective employer, and an employer may rely upon this information if it is “knowingly and willingly disclosed” by the applicant. Additionally, the ordinance will not prohibit any actions taken by an employer pursuant to any federal, state, or local law that specifically authorizes the disclosure of wage history.
The wage equity ordinance will apply to both public and private employers that conduct business in the city of Philadelphia through one or more employees.
Employers that violate the ordinance will be subject to penalties from the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations within 300 calendar days of the alleged infraction. Potential remedies available to successful complainants include injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and court costs.
Paul Lancaster Adams is the Office Managing Shareholder of the Philadelphia office of Ogletree Deakins.
Phillip R. Combs is a 2016 graduate of the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law and is currently awaiting admission to the state bar of Pennsylvania.