Race-based Challenge to Alabama Preemption Law Rejected

A federal court judge in Alabama last week rejected a variety of race-based challenges to the Alabama Uniform Minimum Wage and Right-to-Work Act, also known as House Bill 174 and Act 2016-18.  That law prohibited any political subdivision from requiring any employer to provide employees with any employment benefit or compensation not required by federal or state law and voided any existing requirements.  These types of laws are often referred to as preemption laws. Act 2016-18 was enacted in response to the City of Birmingham’s adoption of an ordinance to increase the city’s minimum wage.  Act 2016-18 voided that ordinance.

In prior posts, I have referred to this case as one related to paid sick leave laws because although the litigation focuses on the Birmingham minimum wage issue, Act 2016-18 prohibits political subdivisions from requiring employers to provide any employment benefit, which includes paid and unpaid leave which would seem to include paid sick leave.

Noting in his decision that “[p] laintiffs have painted this dispute as yet another chapter in Alabama’s civil rights journey,” District Court Judge David Proctor stated that their principal challenge to the law was that it transferred control over private sector employment from “municipal officials elected by a majority-black electorate to legislators elected by a statewide majority-white electorate.”  The plaintiffs also alleged that Act 2016-18 was enacted “with the intent of discriminating against the people who live and work in the City of Birmingham on the basis of race” in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and numerous Constitutional amendments, including the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlaws slavery, and in violation of the “political process doctrine,” which bars states from altering “the procedures of government to target racial minorities.” The judge granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss in its entirety. Some claims were dismissed based on procedural issues such as sovereign immunity and standing while others were dismissed based on substantive law.

The case is Marnika Lewis v. Robert J. Bentley et al. USDC, Northern District of Alabama. Case No. 2:16-CV-690-RDP. Based on this decision, Alabama remains on my list of PSL preemption states.

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