Lawyers to appeals court: Small franchises should have more time to pay $15 minimum wage

Associated Press

A lawyer for the International Franchise Association is arguing before a federal appeals panel that Seattle's new $15 minimum wage law unfairly treats one class of small employer differently from others.

Paul Clement told a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday that the ordinance discriminates against franchises. It says small businesses have seven years to phase in the higher wage, but large companies and franchises must meet the $15 target by 2017 or 2018.

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Clement says that's unconstitutional.

The association wants an injunction against the ordinance that went into effect April 1. A U.S. District Court judge rejected that.

Seattle's lawyers say the ordinance fairly requires businesses that can pay more to pay a higher wage sooner rather than later.

The appellate judges said they'll rule at a later date.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A federal appeals court panel is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday from lawyers for a franchise association who say they shouldn't have to meet the same deadline as large companies when it comes to implementing Seattle's $15 minimum wage law.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones rejected claims by franchises of big national chains that the minimum wage law discriminates against them. Jones upheld Seattle's ordinance that gave small businesses seven years to implement the new law, but said large companies that employee more than 500 workers and franchises must meet the $15 per hour wage by 2017 or 2018.

The franchises appealed that order, arguing they should be treated like small businesses when it comes to phasing in the law.

A Seattle city attorney has argued that the order should remain in place. He says small franchises are part of large franchise networks and their workers should get the $15 minimum wage.

In an opening brief filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyers for the franchise association said Seattle "singled out small franchise businesses for discriminatory treatment with a special -- and especially damaging -- rule: any franchise business, no matter how small, is deemed a 'large employer' if all the separately owned businesses operating under the franchisor's brand or trademark across the country collectively employ more than 500 employees."

They said the law is unconstitutional.

Kathy Lyons, owner of the franchise BrightStar Care of West Seattle, joined the franchise association in seeking an injunction against the ordinance. She said in a news release that the measure would have a negative impact on her company's clients, largely seniors and people with disabilities on fixed incomes.

"The decision will increase the costs of senior care to those who can't afford it," she said.

Seattle lawyers said franchise workers of big national chains like McDonalds have been actively seeking an increased minimum wage and claims by the franchises that paying that higher wage will cause them harm is "purely speculative."

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