Missouri Supreme Court Punts on Kansas City Minimum Wage Ballot Initiative

On January 17th, the Missouri Supreme Court issued a long awaited ruling on a November 2015 ballot initiative that would establish a $15/hr minimum wage in the City of Kansas City. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision did not answer the question of whether the ballot initiative would have conflicted with a state law that prohibits municipalities from creating a higher minimum wage and whether that law itself was constitutional.

In 2015, inner city pastors and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City gathered sufficient signatures to seek a public vote to raise Kansas City’s minimum wage to $15/hr by 2020. The City Counsel of Kansas City refused to adopt the proposed ordinance raising the minimum wage so supporters of the increased minimum wage requested that the issue be submitted to city voters to vote on. In September 2015, the City filed a petition to remove the question from the ballot, arguing that if it was adopted it would be invalid because it would conflict with a state law which prohibits local governments from enacting local minimum wage requirements greater than those imposed by state and federal laws. Supporters of the bill responded that it was the state law described above which was unconstitutional. Ultimately, the trial court entered judgement for the City and removed the initiative petition from the November 3, 2015 ballot.

In its January 17, 2017 decision, the Supreme Court determined that because the ballot had never been submitted to voters and had never been passed, the question of whether the proposed ordinance and the statute which would have made it invalid were premature. The Court’s decision stated that these challenges “remain hypothetical, unless and until the voters have adopted the measure. Then, but only then, may Courts entertain such challenges”. Because those seeking the ballot initiative had gained sufficient signatures to place it on the ballot, the Court ordered that the issue should be submitted to voters to decide. However, the Court’s decision left open the possibility that even if voters approved the higher minimum wage, it could be overturned by a court at a later time. The question of whether Kansas City may raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour remains unanswered. McMahon Berger will continue to monitor both the election and any legal challenges to the ballot if it is adopted.

The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters for almost sixty years, and are available to discuss this issue and others. As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.