Minimum wage is a very important and very controversial topic in the employment arena. In our country, there is a federal minimum wage which is currently $7.25 an hour. However, states have the authority to establish their own minimum wage rate and, if it differs from the federal minimum wage rates, the higher rate applies. In other words, no one can pay less than $7.25 an hour to nonsupervisory, nonfarm, private sector employment covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Alabama has not established a minimum wage, so the federal minimum applies. However, the city of Birmingham challenged this rate in 2015 and the battle continues.
Birmingham City Council Resolution Struck the First Blow
In April of 2015, the Birmingham City Council passed a resolution that called upon the Alabama legislature to increase the state’s minimum wage rate to $10.00. When they refused, the City Council proceeded to adopt its own law that would raise the wage to $8.50 and then to $10.10 an hour in 2017.
In response, a state representative from a mostly white community introduced a bill in the Alabama House of Representatives with the goal of undoing the city’s efforts. After modifications, the bill was approved in the House and then presented to the Alabama Senate.
Birmingham’s Efforts to Increase Minimum Wage Quelled
While the legislature was working to suppress the Birmingham City Council’s efforts, the Council continued with implementing its $10.10 per hour minimum wage. The day after it went into effect, the Minimum Wage Act was approved by the Alabama Senate. This new law mandated a uniform minimum wage throughout the state, which is the federal rate of $7.25 per hour. This new law would preempt any local employment regulations. Governor Bentley signed it into law two hours later.
Lawsuit Filed by Birmingham Residents
A few months after Alabama’s Minimum Wage Act was passed, several Birmingham residents who were earning less than the City’s $10.10 per hour wage filed a lawsuit against Governor Bentley and the Attorney General claiming race discrimination in violation of several constitutional amendments. They were joined by various public interest groups who supported their cause. However, the lawsuit was dismissed in favor of the defendant and the plaintiffs appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.
Eleventh Circuit Initially Finds a Disparate Impact on Black Residents
When the case was first appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, the Court reversed the dismissal of the claims that Alabama’s Minimum Wage Act intentionally discriminated against Black residents of Birmingham. The court found that there was evidence of a discriminatory impact where 37% of Birmingham’s workers were denied a higher wage as compared to 27% of white workers in the city. Furthermore, black workers on average earned $1.41 less than their white counterparts in Birmingham and $2.12 less than those across the state.
Eleventh Circuit Decides to Reconsider its Ruling
On January 30, 2019, the Eleventh Circuit agreed to rehear en banc (with the entire court) the matter and reconsider whether Alabama’s minimum wage law creating a uniform wage throughout the state and preempting any inconsistent local laws had the purpose and effect of discriminating against black Birmingham residents. Consequently, this issue has not yet been resolved.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!