On November 6, 2018, the United States Supreme Court held that the definition of “employer” under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) includes all state and local governments regardless of their size.
In Mount Lemmon Fire Dist. v. Guido 139 S. Ct. 22 (2018), two fire fighters, ages 46 and 54, sued the fire district for age discrimination. The fire district sought dismissal arguing that the district was not large enough to fit the “employer” definition under the ADEA, which 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 a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State . . .”
29 U.S.C. §630(b). Prior to the Court’s holding in Mount Lemmon, there was a division among federal courts about whether the ADEA only applied to municipalities with at least 20 employees. The Supreme Court resolved this dispute, concluding that the plain language of the ADEA, specifically the term “also means”, established a category of state or state political subdivisions that is separate from the provision requiring 20 or more employees. Simply, state and local governments are employers covered by the ADEA regardless of their size.
The Court’s decision broadens the ADEA’s reach. The ADEA is now akin to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which applies to all municipalities, large and small. Its reach is also broader than other statutes with anti-discrimination provisions, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which have a threshold of fifteen employees for local and state governments and businesses alike.
If you have questions about how the expanded interpretation of the ADEA applies to your municipality, contact the attorneys at Siana Bellwoar.
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