Ninth Circuit Rejects Franchise Industry’s Constitutional Arguments Against Seattle Minimum Wage

The International Franchise Association suffered a stinging defeat as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected its constitutional challenges to Seattle’s new living wage law.

The franchising trade group had challenged the living wage law because, in phasing in the increased minimum wage on different schedules for different sized businesses, the City of Seattle treated franchise outlets of large chains (such as McDonald’s) as large employers. The industry claimed this violated everything from the First Amendment to the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Free Speech For People has supported the city against these arguments from the trial court to the court of appeals (along with partners Courage Campaign, Demos, and Equal Justice Society). We’ve also helped spread the word about the absurdity of industry’s claims in this and other cases.

The Court of Appeals’ opinion handily dismisses the industry’s claims under the U.S. Constitution (as well as various other spurious claims under federal statutes and the Washington state constitution). Under the Equal Protection Clause, the court explained, the trial court had reasonably concluded that there was “a rational relationship between franchisees and their classification as large employers” and rejected the industry’s claim that the city was motivated by “animus” against franchised businesses. Under the First Amendment, the court observed that “Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance is plainly an economic regulation that does not target speech or expressive conduct” and that “the decision of a franchisor and a franchisee to form a business relationship and their resulting business activities . . . exhibits nothing that even the most vivid imagination might deem uniquely expressive.”

Is it possible that courts are getting wise to the absurdity of the multi-state corporate strategy of constitutional challenges to minimum wage laws? Some corporate law firms are starting to learn that lesson. But 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, the fight continues.

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