Birmingham & The Impact of Race on State Preemption Laws

Early last year, Alabama passed a preemption law preventing any city in the state from, among other things, setting their own minimum wage.  The law was perceived to be targeting Birmingham, the only city in Alabama to have enacted a minimum wage ordinance that went beyond the federal minimum wage.  In response, the NAACP filed a lawsuit arguing that the state’s blocking of Birmingham’s minimum wage hike was done “with racial animus” and violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.  Last month, a federal judge in Birmingham dismissed the suit, which is now being appealed to the 11th Circuit.  As states across the country increasingly pursue preemption to nullify or prevent cities from raising their minimum wage, the lawsuit filed in Birmingham is one of the first to raise the prospect of racial discrimination in the use of preemption, prompting the question: what role does race play in state preemption laws?

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Workplace Discrimination Against Muslims

It’s a difficult time to be a Muslim in America.  Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Muslim Americans have faced greater scrutiny, with recent global events triggering further anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States and abroad.  According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 39% of Americans and 49% of Republicans believe that Muslims in America should be subject to more scrutiny than people of other religions.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has translated into a serious issue of anti-Muslim discrimination in the workplace.  After September 11th, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) saw a 250% increase in cases of religion-based discrimination against Muslims.  Since 2002, Muslims continue to make up a disproportionate amount of the commission’s religion-based discrimination charges, hovering over 20%.

While in office, President Obama spoke out against Muslim discrimination on several occasions.  Last July, seen as a response to the growing anti-Muslim rhetoric of then candidate Trump’s campaign, President Obama called discriminatory policies against Muslims an insult to the “values that already make our nation great.”

The EEOC looked poised to further take on discrimination against Muslims in the workplace under President Obama.  Last September, the commission adopted its strategic enforcement plan for 2017 to 2021.  Among other things, the plan added the “emerging issue” of anti-Muslim discrimination to its list of priorities.  Specifically, the plan called for a focus on “backlash discrimination against those who are Muslim or Sikh, or persons of Arab, Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, as well as persons perceived to be members of these groups, as tragic events in the United States and abroad have increased the likelihood of discrimination against these communities.”

It’s not clear how anti-Muslim workplace discrimination will evolve under President Trump’s administration.  The President appointed Commissioner Victoria Lipnic as the acting chair of the EEOC shortly after taking office.  Lipnic, a Republican, voted against the strategic enforcement plan that called for an increased focus on discrimination against Muslims and is expected to move the commission in a conservative direction.

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