The trade group representing franchise businesses such as McDonald’s and Holiday Inn has asked the Supreme Court to hear its lawsuit against Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance. Importantly, the International Franchise Association has completely dropped its earlier claim that the law unconstitutionally discriminates against franchise businesses in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws.”
Some background: In 2014, the Seattle City Council passed a “living wage” law raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The law’s implementation schedule requires large businesses to pay the full $15/hour in 2018, but gives small businesses until 2025 to comply. The International Franchise Association sued, arguing that, because the Seattle law’s implementation schedule treats franchised businesses as “large” businesses, it unconstitutionally discriminates against them in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
Free Speech For People has been fighting this absurd equal protection claim since day one. Most recently, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, we joined forces with Demos, Courage Campaign, and the Equal Justice Society to file an amicus brief supporting the City of Seattle and rebutting the corporate equal protection challenge.
This is not an isolated case. The Seattle challenge is part of a multi-state corporate litigation strategy raising constitutional challenges to minimum wage laws, not just in Seattle but also in places such as New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. And the franchise businesses laid the groundwork for a Supreme Court fight from the beginning, hiring a top Supreme Court litigator to argue the case in trial court.
But they may be starting to recognize that the Equal Protection Clause isn’t going to help them. In the Los Angeles case, after Free Speech For People (along with Courage Campaign, Equal Justice Society, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty) filed an amicus brief rebutting the equal protection challenge, the corporate plaintiffs withdrew their equal protection challenge completely.
And now, the franchise corporations challenging the Seattle law seem to have given up on their equal protection challenge. Their petition for Supreme Court review omits that claim completely.
In other words, we scared them off.
Is this the end of corporate equal protection challenges to living wage laws? Probably not. Some corporations would rather pay lawyers than their workers, and they’ll keep bringing these types of cases until we pass a constitutional amendment making it clear that corporations do not have constitutional rights as if they were people. In the meantime, we’ll continue to push back in the courts.