A judge’s decision on Friday to grant an injunction of the City of Milwaukee’s sick leave mandate was just the first step in what figures to be a long, drawn-out legal battle in which the ultimate winners may be attorneys.
Judge Thomas Cooper granted the injunction in the lawsuit brought by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) against the City of Milwaukee. The 9to5 National Coalition of Working Women, which successfully gathered the signatures needed to place the mandate referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot, joined the city as a defendant in the suit.
Representatives of the city, the MMAC and 9to5 did not expect ultimate resolution on Friday.
Strangely enough, neither did the judge.
"This is such an important issue for the city that we better do it right from the start. My overall concern is that we do this right. I have no doubt that the court of appeals and the Supreme Court will eventually get to weigh in on this decision," Cooper said.
Cooper is the fourth judge to be appointed to this case after Judge John DiMotto, Judge Elsa Lamelas, and Judge William Sosnay, recused their selves from the assignment.
"It has been very surprising to me how much interest this case is getting, and because of that, I am almost certain that the Wisconsin court system will give you all an ultimate answer on this issue," Cooper said. "I am only the first step. There is dead solid certainty on my part, that no matter what decision I make in the matter, my ruling will be appealed. So my advice to this community is to get your selves ready for the long haul."
The crowd in the courtroom remained calm and relatively silent after the injunction was granted.
Supporters of the injunction heaved a small sigh of relief, but they are still weighed down by the realization of the fight that is ahead of them.
Supporters of the ordinance were not surprised by the ruling and even cheered the representing attorneys representing 9to5 as they exited the courtroom.
"Today is just preliminary," said Barbara Zack Quindel, attorney from Milwaukee-based Hawks Quindel Ehlke & Perry S.C., who represented 9to5. "For now, the judge has granted his ruling, and we remain optimistic. We are very confident that this ordinance will move forward."
According to Quindel, it was not easy to remember that 9to5 Milwaukee and the City of Milwaukee were co-defendants in Friday’s hearing.
"It was certainly difficult to remember we were aligned. I believe (the city’s decision to not oppose the injunction) was really a matter of the mayor’s personal views on this ordinance … and shame on the city for taking that position," Quindel said.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett issued the following statement about the hearing: "The City of Milwaukee needs to have the legal issues surrounding this ordinance resolved. As I have stated previously, we will continue to work toward developing rules and procedures for the sick leave ordinance. I have asked the City Attorney’s office to move this process along as quickly as possible."
"What is exceptionally novel in this case," Scott Beightol, attorney for Michael Best and Friedrich LLP, representing the MMAC, said, "is that the plaintiff and the co-defendant (City of Milwaukee) agree that an injunction should be granted."
Tim Sheehy president of the MMAC, also weighed in on the hearing: "This new City of Milwaukee mandate is a job killer that threatens our regional competitiveness at a time when our families and businesses can afford it least. We are extremely pleased that the court has agreed to call a ‘time out’ on implementation of this ordinance until all the legal questions surrounding it can be thoroughly reviewed."
The courtroom was filled to capacity with supporters from both sides of the issue. The judge said he had read each side’s legal briefs "at least three times."
City ‘not opposed’
The City of Milwaukee’s attorneys later contended that the city was not opposed to the injunction.
"The City of Milwaukee did not move to injunction nor did we object to the injunction,” said Linda Burke, attorney for the city. "Our main concern is that the city could expend considerable resources on implementing these rules and regulations without knowing what the ultimate outcome of this law suit will be. That could mean vast amounts of wasted resources in an era that frankly, we can’t afford to be wasteful in."
"This is really a balancing of the harms involved," Quindel said. "Our argument is that this is a valid ordinance passed by the voters. Employers have known for a while that this was going to happen, and that it would be effective on Feb. 10."
Quindel said 122,000 workers in Milwaukee who do not have paid sick days or job security.
"If this injunction is passed, than all of those workers who support this ordinance are invisible and voiceless, and will continue to suffer the hardships," she said.
Alysha Schertz is a reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee.