Court says workers can’t sue over blocked minimum wage boost

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Fast-food workers can’t sue the Alabama attorney general over a 2016 state law that blocked a minimum wage increase in the state’s largest city, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state of Alabama, saying the workers do not have standing to sue over the 2016 state law that prohibited cities from setting their own minimum wage.

The lawsuit centers on a 2016 state law passed in response to Birmingham’s attempts to raise the hourly minimum wage. The city of Birmingham planned to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Alabama lawmakers responded by swiftly passing a state law that prevented cities from doing so.

Fast-food workers, the Alabama Chapter of the NAACP and others sued state officials, saying the state law violated the voting rights and civil rights of Birmingham residents. They contended it was racially discriminatory and another example of the majority-white Legislature exerting control over majority-black cities such as Birmingham. The court only ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue, and not on the other claims.

Lawmakers who supported the state law said that they were worried about the impact on businesses and argued that it was important for economic development for the state to have a uniform minimum wage. Alabama has no minimum wage above the federal minimum of $7.25.

A group advocating for a higher minimum wage, Fight for $15 and a Union, issued a statement strongly criticizing the decision.

“This decision is a disgrace to the rich history of Birmingham, where some of the most consequential struggles of the civil rights movement took place over 50 years ago and where Black, white and brown workers continue to demand justice today,” the statement said.

Richard Rouco, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the case said they were disappointed. “The majority opinion makes it more difficult for individuals to vindicate their civil rights,” he wrote in an email.

Alabama Attorney General Marshall Steve Marshall said in a statement that he was pleased with the ruling, saying the court “agreed with the state of Alabama that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue the attorney general over their complaints about Alabama’s minimum wage law.”

“I also think the substance of the plaintiffs’ challenge lacked merit, but the court withheld judgment on that question because the plaintiffs failed to show that the attorney general ever harmed them,” Marshall said.

The decision in favor of Alabama came after a majority of judges on the 11th Circuit withdrew a decision by a three-judge panel of the court that would have allowed the litigation to proceed. The court said in January that the case would be heard by all the judges in the circuit.

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