Kenney stands with women, says no to business coalition

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Mayor Kenney said Thursday he plans to sign wage discrimination legislation passed by City Council, despite threats from Comcast and the city's chamber of commerce to challenge it in court.

Mayor Kenney said Thursday that he plans to sign into law legislation aimed at addressing wage discrimination, despite threats from Comcast Corp. and the city chamber of commerce to challenge it in court.

"We may get sued, we may not," Kenney said after an unrelated news conference in City Hall. "But Council passed this measure by unanimous vote, and I see no reason why I shouldn't sign it."

Kenney had held off on signing the bill, which would ban employers from asking job applicants for their salary history, after a lawyer for Comcast last month sent a memo to the city solicitor claiming the bill violated the First Amendment. Kenney said the solicitor had vetted those concerns.

"We don't believe that they're valid," he said. "And we'll be probably signing it Monday or so."

The legislation, passed last month, is aimed at addressing wage discrimination against women and minorities. Proponents say the inequity begins early in a career and is perpetuated when individuals are forced to state their salary histories when applying for new jobs.

City Councilman William K. Greenlee modeled the legislation, the first of its kind passed by a U.S. city, after a similar bill was passed by the Massachusetts legislature in August. He said he heard almost no pushback while Council was considering the legislation. The chamber submitted a letter opposing it but did not send anyone to testify at the hearing.

In the Dec. 30 memo, a lawyer hired by Comcast, Miguel Estrada, urged Kenney to veto the legislation, saying it would violate employers' First Amendment right to ask about wage history. He also said there was no evidence that the legislation would narrow the wage gap. He attached alternative legislation that would essentially make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate in pay based on sex, but which lacked the specificity and penalties found in Greenlee's legislation.

Estrada said his "client and others in the business community" were "considering a legal challenge" that could prove costly for the city.

Comcast senior executive Vice President David L. Cohen on Thursday disputed the notion that the letter should be seen as a threat to sue. Asked if Comcast intended to sue, he said, "Today, no."

In an interview last week, Cohen said he expected someone would challenge the legislation in court.

"It will be challenged legally," he said. "It will be found to be unconstitutional."

Cohen stressed that Comcast was not alone in its concerns. He and Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce CEO Rob Wonderling have said there is a growing coalition of businesses opposed to the legislation. The chamber, which has not provided names of other concerned business owners, declined to comment after hearing of Kenney's decision Thursday.

If the mayor takes no action to sign or veto the bill, it will automatically become law Thursday. But Kenney said he believes he has the responsibility to "either be for something or against something and not just let it happen."

Greenlee, who called the legal objections to the bill "bizarre," said Thursday he hopes Kenney's signature brings an end to the matter.

"I would hope they would not sue the city, especially on something like wage equity," Greenlee said. "If Comcast or the chamber sues the city on wage equity? I don't know how they'd explain that."