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Labor activists, Memphis agree to settle civil rights suit

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Activists pushing for higher wages at fast-food restaurants have settled a lawsuit that claimed police in Memphis, Tennessee, threatened protesters with arrest and followed labor organizers home after meetings.

U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman on Monday approved the dismissal of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in March by the Fight for $15 campaign’s Mid-South Organizing Committee against the city of Memphis, Mayor Jim Strickland and Police Director Michael Rallings.

A settlement letter says police will not engage in surveillance of plaintiff Antonio Cathey and two other activists without probable cause. Police will not photograph license plates belonging to protesters at Fight for $15 rallies without cause, and the Memphis Police Department will appoint a liaison that organizers can contact to discuss concerns involving permitted protests and public assemblies, the letter said.

The Fight for $15 campaign has been protesting in U.S. cities since 2012. It is seeking a $15-per-hour minimum wage. Protesters have been joined at rallies by other low-wage workers, such as home and child-care workers.

The movement’s lawsuit also alleged police ordered fast-food workers not to sign petitions and put some on a list requiring them to have a police escort when they visit City Hall.

In a statement, City of Memphis Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen said the lawsuit’s dismissal does not involve any monetary payment and the police department “denies that it ever engaged in any unlawful surveillance tactics of Fight for $15, nor was any such allegation ever proven.”

It was the second lawsuit filed against Memphis over a list compiled by the police department. At one point, the list included about 80 people who required a police escort when entering City Hall. The list included Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter activists, former employees and people accused of disorderly conduct, intimidation, harassment and making threats.

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union remains active. That lawsuit and the Fight for $15 lawsuit accused the city of violating a federal consent decree barring the city from engaging in political surveillance. The 1978 order followed disclosures that police spied on civil rights activists.

The city has since removed about 40 people from the list.

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