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Ruling on Birmingham, Alabama minimum wage hurts most vulnerable

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.. - In a ruling Friday the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a lower court ruling finding that two minimum wage workers in Birmingham lacked standing to sue the governor and attorney general of Alabama over the state’s effort to block the city from increasing its’ minimum wage.


In 2015 Birmingham created a city minimum wage of $10.10 an hour after the state refused to create a minimum wage higher than the federal $7.25 an hour wage. Days later, the state passed a new law voiding any attempt by cities in Alabama to raise the minimum wage. 


In response two African-American employees, Marnika Lewis and Antoin Adams, who work in Birmingham at a rate lower than the $10.10 an hour, sued the Alabama governor and attorney general, Lewis and Adams alleged that the state law voiding a local minimum wage was enacted with the intent to discriminate against them on account of their race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


A district court dismissed the complaint, finding that Lewis and Adams didn’t have the standing to sue the governor and attorney general. A three-judge panel of the appellate court reversed, finding their claim against the attorney general to be valid. However, the full appellate court reconsidered and upheld the district court’s dismissal of the case on Friday.


The following is a statement by Samuel Brooke, deputy legal director for the Economic Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. 


“We are disappointed that the appellate court chose to dismiss this case on a technical issue. This involved a decision made by a majority black city being overruled by the majority white legislature. So much for the so called conservative idea that the best decisions for a population are made at the local level.


“This lawsuit offered the chance to help the most vulnerable citizens of Birmingham, a decision its city leaders should be empowered to make. The state’s refusal to permit this majority-black city to exercise self-autonomy underscores the structural racism that permeates our history. The court’s decision to not intervene is regrettable.”