Challenge to Alabama Preemption Law Rejected
By Michael J. Soltis, Esq.
On Dec. 13, 2019, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an en banc decision, rejected the challenge to Alabama’s minimum wage and employment benefits preemption law. The seven-judge majority held that the federal court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case because the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring it. Because of this holding, the court did not address the substance of the plaintiffs’ legal claims. Five judges dissented.
This litigation has been wending through the Alabama federal courts for nearly four years. In February 2016, Alabama enacted the Uniform Minimum Wage and Right-to-Work Act (HB 174), which prohibited local governments from requiring employers to provide employees with wages or benefits, including paid or unpaid leave, not required by state or federal law. This law negated a City of Birmingham ordinance increasing the minimum wage.
The plaintiffs — several individuals plus Alabama NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, and African American members of the Alabama House of Representatives and Senate — claimed that HB 174 was motivated by “racial animus” and brought various race-based challenges to the Act. In February 2017, a federal court judge rejected all of the plaintiffs’ claims. In July 2018, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all claims except the “equal protection” constitutional claim. When the 11th Circuit agreed to hear the case en banc, it vacated the panel’s opinion.
While the plaintiffs may ask the Supreme Court of the United States to hear an appeal, for the time being, Alabama could preempt local jurisdictions from enacting any ordinance requiring employers to provide employees leave, whether paid or unpaid. Marnika Lewis v. State of Alabama et al. (11th Cir. Case No.17-11009).
***This article originally appeared on the Paid Sick Leave @Work site and was reposted on the DMEC website with their permission.***