District judge rules against suspension of Austin paid sick leave policy amid lawsuit

Work Strong Austin holds on Feb. 15, ahead of City Council's vote to approve a paid sick leave policy in Austin.

Work Strong Austin holds on Feb. 15, ahead of City Council's vote to approve a paid sick leave policy in Austin.

A Travis County district court judge denied a temporary injunction against the city of Austin's recently passed paid sick leave ordinance on Tuesday.

The ordinance, which requires private businesses that operate in Austin to provide paid sick leave to their employees, was approved by City Council 9-2 in February and is scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1.

Along with a number of business interest groups, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin, filed a challenge against the city of Austin in April, requesting that the ordinance be suspended until the question of its legality could be resolved in court.

The TPPF also requested that the Workers Defense Project, a local workers advocacy group that campaigned on behalf of the ordinance, be removed as an intervener on the side of the defense.

"Yesterday was a good outcome for my clients," Robert Henneke, director of the TPPF's litigation wing, said. "... We were successful in getting the WDP struck as a party so that they will not be participating in the case."

Judge Tim Sulak ruled after two days of testimony, including from District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair, who, along with District 1 Council Member Ora Houston, opposed the ordinance.

"The City is pleased with the Court's decision today," a city of Austin spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday. "We look forward to working with the community so that the city's earned sick leave ordinance can be implemented smoothly and fairly."


TPPF's litigation wing, the Center for American Future, represents a coalition of business associations, including the Texas Association of Business, the American Staffing Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a think tank that receives a majority of its funding from Freedom Partners, a conservative organization whose board is made up primarily of Koch Industries-affiliated members.

"With its mandatory paid sick leave ordinance, the city of Austin once again violates Texas state law and infringes upon the rights of Austin businesses protected by the Texas Constitution," Henneke said in a news release announcing the lawsuit.

After TPPF announced its challenge, the Workers Defense Project, local electrician Joe Hernandez and L'Oca d'Oro restaurant owner Adam Orman joined the city as defendants in the case. Both Hernandez and Orman were also removed as interveners in the case.

Ana Gonzalez, a policy advocate with WDP, said despite this ruling WDP "remains committed to defending the Austin paid sick time ordinance" and will continue its outreach efforts to educate Austin workers about their right to earn paid sick leave.

Next steps

TPPF's challenge of the lawsuit will continue in the Travis County district court.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers, include Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, have pledged to fight the paid sick leave ordinance once the Texas Legislature resumes session in January.

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, who sponsored the ordinance, released a statement about the court ruling on Tuesday.

"While this is an important victory, the fight isn't over," Casar said. "The same anti-worker groups who sued the City have made it clear they want to take paid sick days away from working people during the next legislative session. Working families in Austin aren't going to let these out of touch groups take away our right to a fair workplace."