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LSA is fighting to protect the wages of Alabama’s working poor

By Farah Majid, Staff Attorney, Huntsville office

The wages of Alabama’s working poor are still under attack by creditors. When a creditor sues someone and wins in court, they get a judgment. They can then automatically garnish a portion of a person’s paycheck to collect that judgment. The Alabama Constitution lets people protect up to $1,000 per paycheck from garnishment.

                In 2015, the Alabama Legislature passed a statute saying that wages could no longer be protected under the Constitution. Changing a constitutionally-protected right would normally require a constitutional amendment, not just the passing of a statute. Creditors in Alabama now want to be able to seize a quarter of every paycheck a person earns until their judgment has been satisfied.

                A creditor of one of LSA’s clients has claimed our client doesn’t have the right to protect his wages under the Constitution because of the new law that was passed. The case is currently on appeal at the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. The outcome of the appeal will affect the right of every low-income Alabama worker to keep the wages that they’ve earned. If the creditor is successful, the working poor in Alabama will see up to 1/4 of every paycheck seized to satisfy old debts.

LSA's Farah Majid, Staff Attorney in the Huntsville office.

LSA has partnered with The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to represent their client in the LSA appeal. Farah Majid, the Consumer Lead Attorney for LSA, and Sara Zampierin, Senior Staff Attorney at SPLC, are authoring the appellate brief. If successful, the appeal will preserve the right of the working poor to protect their wages from garnishment. It will only affect those who make less than $1,000 per paycheck, but will allow those that need it the most to keep a roof over their head, food on the table, and support their children.

                An amicus brief will also be filed in the case on behalf of Alabama civil rights’ groups, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Alabama Arise, as well as The National Consumer Advocacy groups, the National Consumer Law Center and the National Association of Consumer Advocates. The amicus brief will be filed by Judson Crump, consumer lawyer in Mobile, AL, and will address the greater policy implications of the appellate court’s decision in this case. The amicus looks at the effect the court’s decision will have on low-income Alabamians as well as on consumers.

Protecting the wages of low-income persons and making sure they don’t become destitute, has been a core value in Alabama law for more than a hundred years. One statute cannot overturn a right of the people of Alabama once that right has been enshrined in the Constitution. All of the groups involved in this appeal on behalf of the debtors are hopeful that the Court of Civil Appeals will continue to uphold the rights of the working poor of Alabama.

LSA continues our wage garnishment fight as part of our mission to find solutions to poverty in Alabama!

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    LSA is a grantee of the Legal Services Corporation.