A federal appeals court on Wednesday revived a lawsuit that had accused the Alabama Legislature of racially discriminating against the city of Birmingham by preventing the majority-black city from setting a minimum wage within the city limits.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit. The court said that “plaintiffs have stated a plausible claim that the Minimum Wage Act had the purpose and effect of depriving Birmingham’s black citizens equal economic opportunities on the basis of race.”
Birmingham had been poised to be the first Southern city to raise the minimum hourly wage after the city council in 2015 approved an increase to $10.10. But before it was implemented, the Alabama Legislature in 2016 swiftly passed a law requiring a uniform state minimum wage, effectively nullifying the planned increase.
Fast food workers and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit, arguing that the law was “tainted with racial animus” since it was pushed by white suburban Republican legislators in the majority-white Alabama Legislature and disproportionately affected black workers in the majority black city.
Supporters of the state law say the city initiative would stall economic development.
The court only revived the racial discrimination claim. The court ruled the judge was correct to dismiss other claims in the suit.
“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,” Christine Owens, executive director at the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement.