U. S Supreme Court Further Defines Federal Age Discrimination Law Upon Which Lower Courts Were Split

You may be too young to experience age discrimination yet, but just wait, because it may happen to you. Or, perhaps you have engaged in discrimination against someone because of his or her age, without even recognizing it. Thousands, if not millions, of working Americans have felt the cold shoulder of age discrimination from their employers or during job searches when they were passed over for a position in favor of a younger, less expensive candidate. At first, the employee or job searcher may not recognize the rebuff as age discrimination because the action is cloaked by different reasons so the person making the decision about the older worker doesn’t hurt his or her feelings. But make no mistake, age discrimination exists in the U. S.

Age Discrimination is Illegal in the U.S.

Under both and federal and Texas state law, age discrimination is illegal. Employees who are 40 years of age or older are protected against discrimination based on their age. Are you 40 or older? Were you replaced by a significantly younger worker? Have you heard your supervisor make comments about your age or tell age-related jokes to your co-workers? If you think you have experienced age discrimination, then you should contact Kilgore & Kilgore, because our employment law attorneys hold employers liable for discrimination as defined by Texas and federal law. To learn more about Kilgore & Kilgore’s employment discrimination law practice, click here Employment Discrimination.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act

In 1967, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, commonly referred to as ADEA, to protect workers from age discrimination. Originally, the ADEA applied only to private employers, leaving state and local government workers unprotected. Only private employers with 20 or more employees are covered under the ADEA.

However, in 1974, Congress amended the ADEA to add protection for state and local government workers. Neither private sector nor state and local government workers under the age of 40 are protected by the ADEA or its Texas counterpart in Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code.

U. S. Supreme Court Decides and Defines the ADEA Age Discrimination Law

In its first opinion of the October 2018 term, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case under the ADEA. In Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, the U.S. Supreme Court held that state and local governments are covered by the ADEA regardless of the number of employees they have. The decision was 8-0. Justice Kavanaugh did not participate. Justice Ginsburg wrote the unanimous opinion for the Court.

Age Discrimination Lawsuits Against Employers are Simpler for Government Employees

As a result of this decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the whole process of bringing an age discrimination case against an employer has been made easier for government employees. This is because employees who work for federal or state agencies no longer must show that at least 20 employees work there in order to proceed with an age discrimination claim. For other types of discrimination, only 15 employees are necessary for bringing a claim. It is only in the ADEA that the 20-person requirement is contained.

Older Firefighters Laid Off in Arizona Set off an Age Discrimination Lawsuit

In Guido, the Mount Lemmon Fire District located outside of Tucson, Arizona, laid off its two oldest full-time firefighters. They were 46 and 54 years of age. These firefighters sued the Fire District for age discrimination under the ADEA. The relevant section of the ADEA, 29 U.S.C. § 630(b), states:

The term ‘employer’ means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees …. The term also means (1) any agent of such person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State…

Fire District Sought Dismissal of Firefighters’ Claim

Relying on the above section of the ADEA and some other lower court cases, the Fire District sought dismissal of the firefighters’ lawsuit in the Federal District Court in Arizona. They argued that the ADEA did not apply to the Fire District because it had less than 20 employees. The Federal District Court in Arizona agreed with the Fire District and granted summary judgment for the Fire District. So, the case was brought on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit held that the 20- employee requirement did not apply to employees of the federal government, that it applied only to private employers with 20 or more employees. The Fire District appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which also found that there was no 20-employee requirement for federal government employees. The case has been sent back to the district court, where litigation will proceed.

Definition of Number of Employees Requirement Established by the U. S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court had to determine whether the ADEA’s “twenty or more employees” requirement for a private employer also applied to state and local government employers. The Court determined that the phrase “also means” in the ADEA added new categories of employees who were protected by the ADEA. The ordinary meaning of “also means” is additive rather than clarifying, according to the Opinion written by Justice Ginsburg.

Thus, the U. S. Supreme Court held that the 20-employee minimum does not apply to every category of employer identified in the ADEA. The numerosity requirement does not apply to state and local government employers. The Court affirmed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and concluded that state and local governments are employers subject to the ADEA regardless of the number of employees they may have. Thus, the two firefighters would be able to assert their age discrimination claims against the Mount Lemmon Fire District regardless of its small number of employees.

Discrimination in the Workplace Occurs in Many Different Types of Situations

Perhaps you suffer from other types of discrimination in the workplace. If so, click here Contact Kilgore & Kilgore to connect with an employment lawyer for a free evaluation of the facts of your case.

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