11th Cir. revives suit alleging Alabama's minimum wage pre-emption is discriminatory
- Alabama's Minimum Wage Act, which capped the state's minimum wage at $7.25, may have deprived Birmingham's black citizens of equal economic opportunities on the basis of race, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled (Lewis, Adams, et al v. Gov. of Alabama, Attorney General, State of Alabama et al., No. 17-11009 (11th Cir., July 25, 2018)).
- The state law was signed in 2016, one day after the city adopted a $10.10 minimum wage. Birmingham residents and several public interest agencies sued, alleging that the pre-emption law amounted to race discrimination. A federal district court dismissed their claims, and they appealed.
- On appeal, the 11th Circuit reinstated part of the lawsuit. Because the city has the largest African-American population in the state, the court said the plaintiffs stated a plausible claim that the Minimum Wage Act had a disparate impact on Birmingham's black citizens, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Additionally, the law may have been enacted with a discriminatory purpose, it said: the measure sped through the legislature, received no votes from black legislators and was signed just hours after landing on the governor's desk.
Municipalities across the country have sought local control over policies affecting the labor market, especially minimum wage. But state legislatures, led by Republicans, have been fighting back by setting statewide caps; pre-emption laws have been passed in numerous states.
The Birmingham suit represents the latest development in "a kind of cat-and-mouse game that has been raging between cities and states for the last few years," according to NPR, especially when it comes to cities looking to move beyond the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage. Similar cases have been seen out of Minneapolis and Miami Beach.
The issue of local control doesn't just affect minimum wage, however. Many municipalities have passed local laws like those prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination or requiring paid leave — often focusing on areas in which states and federal authorities have yet to act.