Chamber Of Commerce Files Amended Lawsuit Against Wage Equity Law

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce is not giving up its fight against a city law that would bar employers from asking for a job applicant’s wage history.

After losing a round in federal court, it’s come back with new ammunition.

Judge Mitchell Goldberg tossed out a Chamber suit against the law last month, saying it didn’t have standing to sue because the suit failed to show how the law would hurt any of its members, but gave it two weeks to amend its complaint.

The Chamber filed an amended suit on Tuesday, the day before the deadline, naming 12 companies it says would be harmed by the bill.

High on the list were two women-owned firms: Bittenbender Construction and Diversified Search, an executive search firm.

That’s significant, since the purpose of the law is to prevent the perpetuation of past wage discrimination for groups, like women, with a history of making less than their white male counterparts.

“Even businesses with exceptionally strong track-records on diversity and inclusion oppose the Ordinance because it will restrict their ability to reward talented employees,” the suit says.

The suit also names Liberty Property Trust, the Day and Zimmerman employment agency, Children’s Hospital, Comcast, Drexel University, Sandmeyer Steel, ESM Production, DocuVault records management, FS Investment, and Jacobson.

Each company has its own unique way of being harmed.

Comcast, for example, uses wage history “to translate its packages of salary, options, and benefits into comparable terms—no matter where the applicant is currently located,” the suit says. “The ordinance takes away a tool that is essential to the effective and efficient conduct of Comcast’s regional, national, and global recruitment process and its ability to recruit a diverse workforce.”

Smaller firms have different concerns.

“In order to lure talented individuals with a demonstrated track record, DocuVault routinely offers a premium on the individual’s current compensation—but it cannot offer a compelling compensation package if it does not know the individual’s starting point,” according to the suit.

The Chamber and several companies reached for comment declined to be interviewed.

City officials also said they were restricted in what they could say because the matter is in litigation.

The law’s sponsor, councilman Bill Greenlee, would allow that he is disappointed.

“We would like to see this law, that we passed unanimously, go forward and obviously there are some people who would not like it to go that way,” he said.

The law is on hold while the matter is in court. There is no timeline for the judge’s ruling on standing.

He made no ruling on the merits of the claims, which include violations of free speech, due process, and the commerce clause of the U.S. constitution.

Philadelphia was the first city to pass such a law when council voted on it in December. It was modeled on a Massachusetts law.

Since then, New York has passed a similar bill and San Francisco is considering one.

There was little opposition to the law before it passed, but what Chamber officials describe as a “slow-burning furor” afterward. Chamber officials called it “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

In a six-paragraph release when the suit was first filed, the Chamber used the term “anti-business” four times to describe both the law and the city in general.

“Philadelphia already has a reputation around the country and world for having a high cost of doing business,” it wrote. “With this Ordinance, which would have no meaningful effect on closing the wage gap, we would only reinforce our unfortunate, anti-business reputation of having a city government that tells companies how to run their businesses.”

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