Philadelphia.
Philadelphia. (Credit: mandritoiu/Shutterstock.com)

A federal judge has denied a regional chamber of commerce’s request to block a Philadelphia city ordinance banning employers from asking job applicants about their wage history.

U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied a preliminary injunction request from the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, which claimed the ordinance is bad for businesses.

The chamber filed its lawsuit claiming the ordinance, enacted to promote wage equity, violates companies’ First Amendment rights.

Despite the chamber’s arguments regarding the ordinance’s effect on businesses, Goldberg wrote in his Tuesday order that the chamber had no standing to bring the suit.

While the chamber represents “thousands” of businesses that hire in the Philadelphia area, Goldberg said the rules dictate “that the chamber must identify a member who will suffer specific harm as a result of the ordinance. The chamber’s broad allegations about its members simply do not meet the requirements.”

In addition to prohibiting questions about pay history, the ordinance, signed into law Jan. 23 as Sections 9-1103 and 9-1131 of the Philadelphia Code, makes it unlawful for employers to factor in a prospective employee’s previous pay when determining potential wages.

Companies violating the rules can face a $2,000 fine per instance and potential jail time for repeat offenders.

Marc Sonnenfeld of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius represented the chamber and did not return a call seeking comment. A chamber spokeswoman said the decision was being reviewed and the chamber had no further comment.

The city’s deputy communications director, Mike Dunn, said in a statement, “We are gratified by the judge’s decision. If the chamber files an amended complaint that cures the standing defects identified by the court, the city will adhere to its agreement not to enforce the order until the chamber’s motion for preliminary injunction is resolved. If no amended complaint is filed within the period stipulated by the court, the city will begin taking steps to enforce the ordinance, which seeks to improve wage equity for women and minority workers in Philadelphia.”

In fashioning his ruling, Goldberg relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Summers v. Earth Island Institute, in which the court held that an environmental group did not have standing to sue the U.S. Forest Service over regulations.

The high court held that an organization doesn’t have standing when its members aren’t clearly threatened by the challenged activity, among other criteria.

“While it is certainly possible—perhaps even likely—that one individual will meet all of these criteria, that speculation doesn’t suffice,” the Supreme Court said. “‘Standing,’ we have said, ‘is not “an ingenious academic exercise in the conceivable” … [but] requires … a factual showing of perceptible harm.’ In part because of the difficulty of verifying the facts upon which such probabilistic standing depends, the court has required plaintiffs claiming an organizational standing to identify members who have suffered the requisite harm—surely not a difficult task here, when so many thousands are alleged to have been harmed.”

A federal judge has denied a regional chamber of commerce’s request to block a Philadelphia city ordinance banning employers from asking job applicants about their wage history.

U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied a preliminary injunction request from the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, which claimed the ordinance is bad for businesses.

The chamber filed its lawsuit claiming the ordinance, enacted to promote wage equity, violates companies’ First Amendment rights.

Despite the chamber’s arguments regarding the ordinance’s effect on businesses, Goldberg wrote in his Tuesday order that the chamber had no standing to bring the suit.

While the chamber represents “thousands” of businesses that hire in the Philadelphia area, Goldberg said the rules dictate “that the chamber must identify a member who will suffer specific harm as a result of the ordinance. The chamber’s broad allegations about its members simply do not meet the requirements.”

In addition to prohibiting questions about pay history, the ordinance, signed into law Jan. 23 as Sections 9-1103 and 9-1131 of the Philadelphia Code, makes it unlawful for employers to factor in a prospective employee’s previous pay when determining potential wages.

Companies violating the rules can face a $2,000 fine per instance and potential jail time for repeat offenders.

Marc Sonnenfeld of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius represented the chamber and did not return a call seeking comment. A chamber spokeswoman said the decision was being reviewed and the chamber had no further comment.

The city’s deputy communications director, Mike Dunn, said in a statement, “We are gratified by the judge’s decision. If the chamber files an amended complaint that cures the standing defects identified by the court, the city will adhere to its agreement not to enforce the order until the chamber’s motion for preliminary injunction is resolved. If no amended complaint is filed within the period stipulated by the court, the city will begin taking steps to enforce the ordinance, which seeks to improve wage equity for women and minority workers in Philadelphia.”

In fashioning his ruling, Goldberg relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Summers v. Earth Island Institute, in which the court held that an environmental group did not have standing to sue the U.S. Forest Service over regulations.

The high court held that an organization doesn’t have standing when its members aren’t clearly threatened by the challenged activity, among other criteria.

“While it is certainly possible—perhaps even likely—that one individual will meet all of these criteria, that speculation doesn’t suffice,” the Supreme Court said. “‘Standing,’ we have said, ‘is not “an ingenious academic exercise in the conceivable” … [but] requires … a factual showing of perceptible harm.’ In part because of the difficulty of verifying the facts upon which such probabilistic standing depends, the court has required plaintiffs claiming an organizational standing to identify members who have suffered the requisite harm—surely not a difficult task here, when so many thousands are alleged to have been harmed.”