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11th Circuit revives Birmingham minimum wage lawsuit

July 25, 2018

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday revived a lawsuit that had accused the Alabama Legislature of racially discriminating against the city of Birmingham by preventing the majority-black city from setting a minimum wage within the city limits.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit. The court said that “plaintiffs have stated a plausible claim that the Minimum Wage Act had the purpose and effect of depriving Birmingham’s black citizens equal economic opportunities on the basis of race.”

Birmingham had been poised to be the first Southern city to raise the minimum hourly wage after the city council in 2015 approved an increase to $10.10. But before it was implemented, the Alabama Legislature in 2016 swiftly passed a law requiring a uniform state minimum wage, effectively nullifying the planned increase.

Fast food workers and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit, arguing that the law was “tainted with racial animus” since it was pushed by white suburban Republican legislators in the majority-white Alabama Legislature and disproportionately affected black workers in the majority black city.

Supporters of the state law say the city initiative would stall economic development and the state should not have a patchwork of minimum wage laws.

In an at-times strongly worded opinion, the appellate court said the judge was wrong to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that plaintiffs didn’t have the “clearest proof” of racial motivation.

“Today, racism is no longer pledged from the portico of the capitol or exclaimed from the floor of the constitutional convention; it hides, abashed, cloaked beneath ostensibly neutral laws and legitimate bases, steering government power toward no less invidious ends,” the opinion stated.

Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries, one of the group’s behind the lawsuit, said the decision means that, “Birmingham’s minimum-wage workers will get another chance to win higher wages.”

“We fought hard to win our pay raise, and Birmingham workers deserve to have our day in court to show that the state of Alabama was wrong to take away our raise,” plaintiff Antoin Adams said in a statement.

A spokesman for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the office is reviewing the decision and did not have an immediate comment.

The court only revived the racial discrimination claim. The court ruled the judge was correct to dismiss other claims in the suit.

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