Judge blocks Dallas sick leave ordinance amid virus outbreak

DALLAS, Texas -- A federal judge has blocked the city of Dallas from enforcing an ordinance requiring private businesses to offer paid sick leave, but activists contend employees need those benefits more than ever as the coronavirus continues to spread.

District Judge Sean Jordan on Monday granted a preliminary injunction, ruling that a Texas statute prevents cities from enacting their own paid sick leave orders. The ordinance, approved by the city council in April 2019, went into effect that August but wasn't set to be enforced with penalties until April 1.

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"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 ordinance mandated that Dallas employers must grant one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked by a staffer.

Activists say the injunction leaves employees without paid sick leave benefits vulnerable at a time when it's crucial for ailing workers stay home amid mounting efforts to fight COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Texas has more than 3,100 cases of coronavirus, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. At least a dozen people have died.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Brianna Brown, deputy director of Texas Organizing Project, which lobbied for the ordinance, asserted in a statement that advocates won't stop fighting to protect 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.

Dallas currently has 300,000 employees without access to paid sick leave, according to estimates from the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Robert Henneke, who represented two Collin County companies that sued Dallas last year over the law, said the injunction "was expected."

Interim city attorney Chris Caso told the Dallas Morning News Tuesday via email that he plans to meet with city council members, who can opt to appeal the decision.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.





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