Two days before Dallas’ penalties would begin and in the middle of a pandemic, a federal judge’s injunction has stopped the city from enforcing a new ordinance that requires private employers to offer paid sick leave.
In an order filed Monday, U.S. District Judge Sean Jordan granted a preliminary injunction based on state law, which he said prevents cities from enacting their own paid sick leave ordinances. Therefore, the city’s requirements are unenforceable, he said.
“Whether or not paid sick leave requirements should be imposed by government on private employers is an important public policy issue, made even more significant under the challenging circumstances faced by our nation at this moment,” Jordan wrote. “The state of Texas, through its constitutional structure and statutory law, has committed that public policy decision to the Texas Legislature.”
Activists say the injunction is a big blow for workers who lack paid sick leave at a time when it’s crucial for employees who are ill to go home.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, using U.S. census data, estimated 300,000 workers don’t have access to paid sick leave in Dallas.
Brianna Brown — deputy director of Texas Organizing Project, which lobbied for the ordinance at City Hall — said Monday night that advocates won’t stop fighting for protections for working families.
“As a pandemic shatters the health and financial stability of millions across the nation, this court ruling is particularly insidious and a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of workers who keep Dallas running,” Brown said.
Two Collin County companies — ESI/Employee Solutions LP and the Hagan Law Group LLC — sued the city in July, two days before the ordinance was to take effect.
Interim city attorney Chris Caso in an email Tuesday morning said he can’t discuss future plans until he briefs the Dallas City Council. Council members can choose to appeal the ruling.
Robert Henneke, an attorney from the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation who represented the companies, argued that the local ordinance was an overreach of the city’s power and violated the state’s minimum-wage act and employers’ constitutional rights.
“Today’s outcome was expected,” he said. “It’s not constitutional for cities to interfere with the employer-employee relationship in this manner.”
Emily Timm, co-executive director of Workers Defense Project, said in a written statement Monday that many employees who can’t afford to take time off from work could put their co-workers’ health in jeopardy because of the decision.
She said the plaintiffs — the companies, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Attorney General Ken Paxton — will be to blame for the harm caused.
“We are outraged by today’s decision and cannot imagine a time when the Dallas paid sick leave ordinance is more important and more necessary,” Timm said. “People will get sick because of this injunction, and some may even die. Those who brought this lawsuit against the city ... will be to blame.”
But Henneke faulted union groups for “all the time and effort that has been spent on this issue” for pushing the ordinance at City Hall.
In April 2019, the Dallas City Council voted 10-4 to require businesses to provide earned paid sick time. The ordinance took effect in August but wasn’t scheduled to be enforced with penalties until April.
The ordinance mandated that employers provide an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked for all workers who put in at least 80 hours a year in Dallas.
Small businesses with five or fewer employees weren’t required to comply until August 2021. Businesses with 15 employees or fewer can cap their workers’ accrued paid sick leave at 48 hours a year instead of 64 hours. Independent contractors and government employees were excluded.