In resolving a split among the circuits, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is applicable to state and local government entities, regardless of how many employees they have. The Court held that all government entities are considered employers under the ADEA, not just those that employ 20 or more employees. If you are a small local government entity, you will need to take this into consideration when making employment decisions that affect those over the age of 40.
In Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, Justice Ginsburg opined that the ADEA establishes “separate categories: persons engaged in an industry affecting commerce with 20 or more employees; and states or political subdivisions with no attendant numerosity limitation.” The employer, Mount Lemmon Fire District, is an 11-employee political subdivision of the state of Arizona. The group laid off two firefighter captains who were over the age of 40 and the oldest full-time employees. The pair then sued the Fire District under the ADEA, which protects employees and applicants from discrimination on the basis of age. The ADEA applied to private employers with 20 or more employees, and applies to states and political subdivisions, but the language that relates to state employees does not mention the 20-employee mandate.
Ginsburg noted that originally, public employers were excluded from coverage by both the ADEA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a broader anti-discrimination law, which bars employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. In 1972, Congress extended Title VII to public employees, providing the same threshold that applies to private employers under the law to cover only those that employ a certain number of people.
In its argument, the Fire District held that it was not subject to the ADEA because it did not employ 20 or more employees. The matter went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after the district court agreed. The Ninth Circuit reversed the ruling, stating that the meaning of the statute is unambiguous, and that it applies to all state employers, no matter how many employees they have. Other federal courts of appeals have interpreted the language differently, resulting in the Supreme Court agreeing to review the Fire District’s appeal.
This increases the risk of liability faced by government agencies as it may inspire a greater number of age discrimination cases to be filed. However, in politically divisive times, there may be many developments that will yield far more polarizing results.
MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser has a broad range of experience successfully resolving complex situations like the above ADEA ruling, and we can help to advocate for and protect your rights. For help and guidance toward making the best decisions, please call 484-318-7106 or contact us online today for an evaluation of your case. Our office is conveniently located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and we serve clients throughout the Commonwealth.