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

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

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

West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish

No. 293

Argued December 16, 17, 1936

Decided March 29, 1937

300 U.S. 379

Syllabus

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. 300 U. S. 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. 300 U. S. 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. 300 U. S. 394, 300 U. S. 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. 300 U. S. 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. 300 U. S. 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. 300 U. S. 400.

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

Page 300 U. S. 380

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.

Page 300 U. S. 386

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Primary Holding

Due process does not prevent a state from enacting a minimum wage law for women.

Facts

Under Washington state law, the Industrial Welfare Committee and Supervisor of Women in Industry set a minimum wage of $14.50 for each work week of 48 hours. At the Cascadian Hotel in Wenatchee, which was owned by the West Coast Hotel Company, a chambermaid named Elsie Parrish was paid an amount less than this wage. Together with her husband, she sued the hotel for damages amounting to the difference. The lower court relied on the 1923 Supreme Court decision in Adkins v. Children's Hospital in ruling for the hotel.

Procedural History

Washington Supreme Court - 55 P.2d 1083 (Wash. 1936)

Reversed. The plaintiff is due the difference between her weekly salary and the minimum wage under state law.

Opinions

Majority

  • Charles Evans Hughes (Author)
  • Louis Dembitz Brandeis
  • Harlan Fiske Stone
  • Owen Josephus Roberts
  • Benjamin Nathan Cardozo

Echoing the decision in Muller v. Oregon (1908), Hughes ruled that the state may use its police power to restrict the individual freedom to contract. His decision overruled Atkins and marked the Court's departure from the expansive view of the freedom to contract espoused by Lochner v. New York (1905). While Hughes wrote the opinion, the stark doctrinal shift resulted from Justice Owen Josephus Roberts changing his perspective on this issue. According to Hughes, President Franklin Roosevelt's reelection in 1936 and the impressive achievements of the New Deal caused Roberts to abandon his affiliation with the Court's conservative justices. It is impossible to verify the accuracy of these comments, since Roberts destroyed his papers after leaving the Court.

His decision to disregard his personal political views has been called the "switch in time that saved nine," considering that Roosevelt had proposed a plan to pack the Court with favorable justices. (However, Hughes and others denied that this proposal influenced them.) Roberts also set a precedent for justices to base their decisions on public opinion rather than personal views.

Dissent

  • George Sutherland (Author)
  • Willis Van Devanter
  • James Clark McReynolds
  • Pierce Butler

Implicitly criticizing Roberts for changing sides, Sutherland pointed out that current politics and public opinion should not sway the Court's understanding of the Constitution.

Case Commentary

The paternalistic rhetoric of this decision is based on the belief that women, as the weaker gender, need to be protected from exploitation and do not have as much freedom to contract their labor as men do. The Court also observed that the minimum wage removes the burden on the state of financially supporting workers who have jobs but cannot support themselves because of inadequate income.

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