300 U.S. 379 (1937), 293, West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish

Docket NºNo. 293
Citation300 U.S. 379, 57 S.Ct. 578, 81 L.Ed. 703
Party NameWest Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish
Case DateMarch 29, 1937
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 379

300 U.S. 379 (1937)

57 S.Ct. 578, 81 L.Ed. 703

West Coast Hotel Co.



No. 293

United States Supreme Court

March 29, 1937

Argued December 16, 17, 1936



1. Deprivation of liberty to contract is forbidden by the Constitution if without due process of law, but restraint or regulation of this liberty, if reasonable in relation to its subject and if adopted for the protection of the community against evils menacing the health, safety, morals and welfare of the people, is due process. P. 391.

2. In dealing with the relation of employer and employed, the legislature has necessarily a wide field of discretion in order that there may be suitable protection of health and safety, and that peace and good order may be promoted through regulations designed to insure wholesome conditions of work and freedom from oppression. P. 393.

3. The State has a special interest in protecting women against employment contracts which through poor working conditions, long hours or scant wages may leave them inadequately supported and undermine their health; because:

(1) The health of women is peculiarly related to the vigor of the race;

(2) Women are especially liable to be overreached and exploited by unscrupulous employers; and

(3) This exploitation and denial of a living wage is not only detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the women affected, but casts a direct burden for their support upon the community. Pp. 394, 398, et seq.

4. Judicial notice is taken of the unparalleled demands for relief which arose during the recent period of depression and still continue to an alarming extent despite the degree of economic recovery which has been achieved. P. 399.

5. A state law for the setting of minimum wages for women is not an arbitrary discrimination because it does not extend to men. P. 400.

6. A statute of the State of Washington (Laws, 1913, c. 174; Remington's Rev.Stats., 1932, § 7623 et seq.) providing for the establishment of minimum wages for women, held valid. Adkins v. Children's Hospital, 261 U.S. 525, is overruled; Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo, 298 U.S. 587, distinguished. P. 400.

185 Wash. 581; 55 P.2d 1083, affirmed.

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This was an appeal from a judgment for money directed by the Supreme Court of Washington, reversing the trial court, in an action by a chambermaid against a hotel company to recover the difference between the amount of wages paid or tendered to her as per contract and a larger amount computed on the minimum wage fixed by a state board or commission.

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HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question of the constitutional validity of the minimum wage law of the State of Washington.

The Act, entitled "Minimum Wages for Women," authorizes the fixing of minimum wages for women and minors. Laws of 1913 (Washington) chap. 174; Remington's Rev.Stat. (1932), § 7623 et seq. It provides:

SECTION 1. The welfare of the State of Washington demands that women and minors be protected from conditions of labor which have a pernicious effect on their health and morals. The State of Washington, therefore, exercising herein its police and sovereign power declares that inadequate wages and unsanitary conditions of labor exert such pernicious effect.

SEC. 2. It shall be unlawful to employ women or minors in any industry or occupation within the State of Washington under conditions of labor detrimental to their health or morals, and it shall be unlawful to employ

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women workers in any industry within the State of Washington at wages which are not adequate for their maintenance.

SEC. 3. There is hereby created a commission to be known as the "Industrial Welfare Commission" for the State of Washington, to establish such standards of wages and conditions of labor for women and minors employed within the State of Washington as shall be held hereunder to be reasonable and not detrimental to health [57 S.Ct. 580] and morals, and which shall be sufficient for the decent maintenance of women.

Further provisions required the Commission to ascertain the wages and conditions of labor of women and minors within the State. Public hearings were to be held. If, after investigation, the Commission found that, in any occupation, trade or industry, the wages paid to women were "inadequate to supply them necessary cost of living and to maintain the workers in health," the Commission was empowered to call a conference of representatives of employers and employees together with disinterested persons representing the public. The conference was to recommend to the Commission, on its request, an estimate of a minimum wage adequate for the purpose above stated, and, on the approval of such a recommendation, it became the duty of the Commission to issue an obligatory order fixing minimum wages. Any such order might be reopened, and the question reconsidered with the aid of the former conference or a new one. Special licenses were authorized for the employment of women who were "physically defective or crippled by age or otherwise," and also for apprentices, at less than the prescribed minimum wage.

By a later Act, the Industrial Welfare Commission was abolished, and its duties were assigned to the Industrial Welfare Committee, consisting of the Director of Labor and Industries, the Supervisor of Industrial Insurance,

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the Supervisor of Industrial Relations, the Industrial Statistician, and the Supervisor of Women in Industry. Laws of 1921 (Washington) c. 7; Remington's Rev.Stat. (1932), §§ 10840, 10893.

The appellant conducts a hotel. The appellee, Elsie Parrish, was employed as a chambermaid and (with her husband) brought this suit to recover the difference between the wages paid her and the minimum wage fixed pursuant to the state law. The minimum wage was $14.50 per week of 48 hours. The appellant challenged the act as repugnant to the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The Supreme Court of the State, reversing the trial court, sustained the statute and directed judgment for the plaintiffs. Parrish v. West Coast Hotel Co., 185 Wash. 581, 55 P.2d 1083. The case is here on appeal.

The appellant relies upon the decision of this Court in Adkins v. Children's Hospital, 261 U.S. 525, which held invalid the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act, which was attacked under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. On the argument at bar, counsel for the appellees attempted to distinguish the Adkins case upon the ground that the appellee was employed in a hotel, and that the business of an innkeeper was affected with a public interest. That effort at distinction is obviously futile, as it appears that, in one of the cases ruled by the Adkins opinion, the employee was a woman employed as an elevator operator in a hotel. Adkins v. Lyons, 261 U.S. 525, at p. 542.

The recent case of Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo, 298 U.S. 587, came here on certiorari to the New York court, which had held the New York minimum wage act for women to be invalid. A minority of this Court thought that the New York statute was distinguishable in a material feature from that involved in the Adkins case, and, that for that and other reasons, the New

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York statute should be sustained. But the Court of Appeals of New York had said that it found no material difference between the two statutes, and this Court held that the "meaning of the statute" as fixed by the decision of the state court "must be accepted here as if the meaning had been specifically expressed in the enactment." Id., p. 609. That view led the affirmance by this Court of the judgment in the Morehead case, as the Court considered that the only question before it was whether the Adkins case was distinguishable, and that reconsideration of that decision had not been sought. Upon that point, the Court said:

The petition for the writ sought review upon the ground that this case [Morehead] is distinguishable from that one [Adkins]. No application has been made for reconsideration of the constitutional question there decided. The validity of the principles upon which that decision rests is not challenged. This court confines itself to the ground upon which the writ was asked or granted. . . . Here, the review granted was no broader than that sought by the petitioner. . . . He is not entitled, and does not ask, to be heard upon the [57 S.Ct. 581] question whether the Adkins case should be overruled. He maintains that it may be distinguished on the ground that the statutes are vitally dissimilar.

Id. pp. 604, 605.

We think that the question which was not deemed to be open in the Morehead case is open and is necessarily presented here. The Supreme Court of Washington has upheld the minimum wage statute of that State. It has decided that the statute is a reasonable exercise of the police power of the State. In reaching that conclusion, the state court has invoked principles long established by this Court in the application of the Fourteenth Amendment. The state court has refused to regard the decision in the Adkins case as determinative, and has pointed to our decisions both before and since that case as justifying its position. We are of the opinion that this ruling of

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the state court demands on our part a reexamination of the Adkins case. The importance of the question, in which many States having similar laws are concerned, the close division by which the decision in the Adkins case was reached, and the economic conditions which have supervened, and in the light of which the reasonableness of the exercise of the protective power of the State must be considered, make it not only appropriate, but we think imperative, that, in deciding the present case, the subject should...

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