Amicus Brief in International Franchise Association v. City of Seattle

Amicus Brief in International Franchise Association v. City of Seattle

June 3, 2015

Seattle’s living wage law fulfills, rather than offends, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.2 The amendment’s legislative history reveals that “fair, living wages” for freedmen were a core concern of the Reconstruction Congress and executive branch, and Congress cannot have intended the Fourteenth Amendment to impede governmental efforts to establish a living wage. Appropriately, modern courts’ deference to economic legislation against Equal Protection Clause challenges applies even more strongly to minimum wage laws: amici are unaware of any modern decision invalidating a minimum wage law on an employer’s equal protection challenge. And plaintiffs—politically well-represented business entities—cannot realistically claim “animus” here.

The Fourteenth Amendment’s deference to living wage laws begins with Reconstruction itself. The amendment’s legislative history reveals that its framers sought and heard extensive testimony on the availability of “fair, living wages” for freedmen. Government officials responsible for freedmens’ affairs testified about federal efforts to ensure such “living wages,” and the framers understood these measures as a key element of the free labor system. The framers’ intent for the Equal Protection Clause was surely not to be a tool for employers, then or now, to combat the government’s efforts to guarantee a living wage. 

Seattle’s minimum wage law fulfills the intent and spirit of the Fourteenth Amendment by helping all low-income workers, and particularly the city’s people of color, who are disproportionately paid low wages. The ordinance’s findings note that 70% of the city’s American Indian and Alaska Native workers, and over 40% of its African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic workers, earn less than the new minimum wage. Quibbles about the law’s phased implementation schedule pale in significance to the interests of the 30,000 workers whom the law will benefit, and whose interests more closely correspond to those that the amendment’s framers sought to protect.

Plaintiffs’ attempt to cast municipal wage legislation as motivated by “animus” falls flat because plaintiffs are not, and cannot reasonably compare themselves to, disfavored minorities for which legislative distinctions can trigger animus review. To the contrary, the principal case that plaintiffs cite for their animus argument (involving discrimination in the food stamp program) exposes the awkward reality that franchise employees are often recipients of food stamps precisely because of their low wages. Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim does not demonstrate animus and lacks support in modern precedent.

Read the full Amicus brief here.


2. “[N]or shall any State . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV § 1.