News & Insights

Eleventh Circuit Reverses Discrimination Claim Leading To A Full Court Review Of Challenge To Alabama Law

After a recent Eleventh Circuit decision in Lewis v. Governor of Alabama 896 F.3d 1282 (11th Cir. 2018), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to 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 The law was originally enacted in response to an ordinance by the Birmingham City Council that increased the minimum wage for all employees within the Birmingham City’s boundaries from the current federal minimum of $7.25 to $10.10.  The day after this ordinance was enacted to increase the minimum wage, the Alabama Legislature enacted and the governor signed the Alabama Minimum Wage Act, voiding Birmingham’s wage increase after one day of operation.

In Lewis, plaintiffs were employees whose hourly wages increased under the city ordinance. Plaintiffs sued state officials, alleging that the state law purposefully discriminated against Birmingham’s black citizens in violation of the Equal Protection Clause by denying them economic opportunities on account of their race. The district court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss.

A three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s decision and held that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged facts to maintain the plaintiffs’ race discrimination claims by showing that the Alabama Minimum Wage Act had a disparate impact on black employees, as the state law denied 37% of Birmingham’s black wage earners a higher wage, compared to only 27% of white wage earners.

If the Alabama Minimum Wage Act is upheld, the state will continue to prohibit cities and municipalities from adopting local laws providing higher minimum wages than permitted under state law. Employers in Alabama should keep up with the outcome of this case to determine the correct minimum wage required to be paid to their employees under Alabama law.