On Eleventh Circuit Reviving NAACP Suit Calling Alabama Wage Law Racially Biased

In response to the Eleventh Circuit’s decision to allow plaintiffs to proceed in the lawsuit challenging the State of Alabama’s actions to nullify a City of Birmingham minimum wage ordinance as racial discrimination, Christine Owens, executive director at the National Employment Law Project, issued the following statement:

“The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals today refused to give state legislatures a pass when their dominant white majorities use their power to undermine local democracy and discriminate against African Americans and people of color attempting to build a better and more just future through their local governments.

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“The City of Birmingham’s unanimous decision in 2015 to enact the first minimum wage ordinance in the Deep South marked a historic victory for the Fight for $15 and for black workers in the city, whose wages are lower and poverty rates higher than their white counterparts.

However, the Alabama state legislators and former governor who swiftly nullified that victory through a state law banning Birmingham’s and all future local minimum wage laws revealed the lengths that some white majorities will go to try and deny communities of color the path forward that they attempt to pave themselves.

The earlier decision by the district court, dismissing a legal challenge to the state’s action, exacerbated that injustice by refusing to allow black workers and the NAACP their day in court to prove that the state’s action was motivated by intentional discrimination.

Workers, communities of color, advocates, and our courts will not stand by and allow the seemingly-neutral politics of ‘preemption’ to deny local communities the very basic right to use their local democratic process to craft local solutions.

“But now, the Eleventh Circuit has re-opened the courthouse door, holding that although the plaintiffs may not ultimately prevail on their claims of intentional discrimination, the constitution demands that they have ‘the right to try’—because, as the court noted, ‘[t]oday, 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.’

In requiring the district court to consider whether the state’s action violated the constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, the court’s decision should put state legislators around the country on notice.

Workers, communities of color, advocates, and our courts will not stand by and allow the seemingly-neutral politics of ‘preemption’ to deny local communities the very basic right to use their local democratic process to craft local solutions that address their local concerns, especially when state and federal policymakers refuse to consider solutions themselves.”

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