JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Supreme Court has upheld
a St. Louis ordinance that calls for raising workers' minimum wage.
In a ruling issued on Feb. 28, the high court found that St. Louis
did not improperly stray beyond its charter authority when it enacted
the hike on Aug. 28, 2015.
The ordinance calls for four graduated increases to the minimum
wage for employees working within city limits that would reach $11
per hour on Jan. 1, 2018.
Then, starting Jan. 1, 2021, the minimum-wage rate would increase
annually on a percentage basis to reflect the rate of inflation, the
court order stated.
The city, Board of Public Services and various officials had been
sued in St. Louis circuit court by business groups who argued that
Ordinance 70078 conflicted with state law that caps the minimum wage
A circuit-court judge ultimately ruled against the increase in
2015 because the ordinance required a higher minimum wage than the
However, in the ruling recently handed down, the Supreme Court
found that the St. Louis increase didn’t conflict with the wage set
by state law.
Justice Laura Denvir Stith wrote the court’s opinion.
“Its purpose of protecting employees is served by setting a
floor for minimum wages; nothing in the law suggests the state also
wanted to protect employers by setting a maximum minimum wage,” she
Stith noted that the Missouri General Assembly had adopted a
minimum wage bill — House Bill 722 — in May 2015 because of an
awareness of "uncertainties caused by litigation."
In part, HB 722 provides in
"No political subdivision shall establish, mandate, or
otherwise require an employer to provide an employee: (1) [a] minimum
wage or living wage rate; or (2) [e]mployment benefits; that exceed
the requirements of federal or state laws, rules or regulations. The
provisions of this subsection shall not preempt any state or local
minimum-wage ordinance requirements in effect on Aug. 28, 2015."
Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed HB 722 on July 10, 2015, but the General
Assembly overrode his veto on Sept. 16, 2015. The bill went into
effect Oct. 16, 2015 — 30 days after the veto was overridden.
On Oct. 26, 2015, the city filed a motion to amend or modify
judgment because it believed its “power to enact the ordinance was
specifically acknowledged by certain 'grandfathering' language
contained in newly enacted HB 722”, but the St. Louis trial court
overruled the motion on Nov. 12, 2015.
Justice Zel Fischer wrote in a special concurrence that he found
that no pre-emption analysis with respect to state statute or the
general minimum-wage law was necessary in the case.
"House Bill No. 722 … provides that local minimum-wage
ordinances that were in effect on Aug. 28, 2015, shall not be
pre-empted," Fischer wrote. "As the principal opinion
holds, this includes Ordinance 70078. As the principal opinion also
holds, the city acted within its home-rule authority in enacting
Ordinance 70078. This should end the inquiry —the ordinance is
authorized and not pre-empted."