Federal Court Denies Relief to Workers Who Complained of Equal Protection Violations Concerning Minimum-Wage Laws in Neighboring State

An Atlanta wage and hour lawsuit can help a worker seek redress against an employer who refuses to pay him or her in accordance with the law, including statutes and regulations aimed at making sure workers are paid a certain minimum wage. The issue of what, exactly, constitutes a fair and living wage has been the subject of much debate in recent years. As a result, some local governments have attempted to take matters into their own hands by establishing their own – higher – minimum-wage laws. A recent case arising in a sister state provides instruction on how this well-intentioned process can sometimes fail to have the result sought by local lawmakers.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal appellate court case, the plaintiffs were two African American employees who complained that their employer had refused to pay them the appropriate minimum wage, as established by a city ordinance (setting the rate at $10.10, rather than the amount set by federal law). The employer’s actions were based on a statute (passed after the city had increased the minimum wage in its borders) “prohibiting and voiding” any local law that purported to increase the minimum wage above that which was established under federal law. They sued the defendant attorney general, averring that their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution had been violated. The trial court dismissed their claims, and they appealed.

The Court’s Ruling

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part and remanded the case to the panel. The appellate court first held that the plaintiffs lacked standing under Article III of the United States Constitution to bring their equal protection claims against the defendant attorney general because they could not show that their injuries were “fairly traceable” to his conduct or that their injuries could be redressed by a decision against him. Because the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring suit against the attorney general under the circumstances, the court found it unnecessary to reach the other issues in the case (including whether the attorney general was a proper defendant and/or whether the plaintiffs had stated a plausible equal-protection claim on the merits).

In so holding, the court of appeals acknowledged that the issues in the case arose because of a “political tug-of-war” between a city and state regarding economic policy, more particularly minimum-wage rates. While the court agreed that the plaintiffs had suffered economic injuries due to their employer’s refusal to pay the minimum-wage rate set by the city and acknowledged the plaintiffs’ statistical evidence regarding the racial demographics of the state and local electorates, the court found that their claim against the attorney general failed for lack of standing.

If You Have Questions for a Wage and Hour Law Attorney

Workers should understand their legal rights and know that they can hire an attorney to represent them if a dispute arises between them and their employer. The Atlanta wage and hour attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to help, if you need to speak to a legal professional regarding a pay issue or other employment law matter. Call us at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation about your situation.

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