No size requirement for local governments to be sued for age discrimination
Today, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, a case we have been tracking over the last year. The ruling expands the scope of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) to allow claims against local and state government entities regardless of their size. Now, based on the unanimous vote of the Supreme Court, any employee of a local or state government can sue for age discrimination.
Two long-time employees of the Mount Lemmon Fire District sued after they were terminated as a result of budget constraints. Both employees were over the age of 40 and asserted age discrimination claims. The fire district tried to get the case dismissed on the basis that it had less than 20 employees and, as such, was too small for the ADEA to cover its employees.
The Court’s Holding
The ADEA defines “employer” as “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees.” 29 U.S.C. § 630(b). Employer “also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State . . . . ” Id. Up until this case, many courts were divided on whether the numerosity requirement of 20 or more employees applied to state or local governments in addition to private employers.
After discussing its history, the Supreme Court zeroed in on the actual definition of employer contained in the ADEA. Of particular importance to the Supreme Court were the words “also means” followed by the language about state and political subdivisions. The Court reasoned that Congress intended to create an additional category of employers who were required to comply with the ADEA. Accordingly, the ADEA governs all state and local governments—regardless of size—and private employers with 20 or more employees. Even very small local governments will need to make sure they do not engage in any age discrimination when making employment decisions.
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