Eleventh Circuit to Undertake Full-Court Review of Challenge to Alabama Law Prohibiting Local Minimum Wage Laws
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to undertake a full-court review to decide the validity of a 2015 Alabama law prohibiting cities or other local municipalities from adopting their own laws concerning minimum wages, leave benefits, collective bargaining and other employment-related issues. The law was enacted in response to an ordinance passed by the Birmingham City Council to increase the minimum wage for all employees within the City’s boundaries, from the current federal minimum of $7.25 to $10.10. While local jurisdictions in a number of states have enacted their own minimum wage ordinances in recent years, Alabama is one of nearly twenty states that have passed laws prohibiting such ordinances.
The lawsuit originally was filed by the NAACP and two Birmingham residents in 2016 against the Alabama Attorney General, the Governor of Alabama and the Mayor of Birmingham, alleging a variety of Constitutional violations and a violation of the Voting Rights Act, based on allegations that the state law’s passage was rooted in the state legislature’s racial bias against Birmingham’s black-majority city council and citizens. The case was dismissed by a federal district judge in 2017 but was revived in July 2018 by a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit, concluding that the facts as alleged were sufficient to maintain the plaintiffs’ race discrimination claims. The state had argued successfully before the district court that because the law applied statewide, and not just in Birmingham, the fact that it would have affected more black employees in that city was an insufficient basis for the plaintiffs to maintain their disparate impact discrimination claims. Rejecting that argument, the Eleventh Circuit panel held that such “cherry-picked” statistics disregarded the specific allegations in the case, namely, that the law was aimed precisely at Birmingham and not the state as a whole.
Whether a majority of the full court will agree with the district court, the panel decision, or something in between, remains to be seen. If the law is upheld, the state likely will continue to prohibit cities and municipalities from adopting local laws providing higher minimum wages than permitted under state law.