Hot off the Press for Public Employers and Political Subdivisions: The Supreme Court rules that the ADEA covers even small state and local government employers
November 5, 2018
By: Grace E. Hurney
Today, in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, 586 U.S. ____ (2018), which is the first decision of the new term, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously upheld the Ninth Circuit’s decision to reopen a lawsuit by two firefighter captains who claimed that they were illegally terminated by the Tucson Fire District because of their age. The Fire District argued that because it employed less then twenty people, it was too small to qualify as an employer under the plain language of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”). Despite the ADEA defining an “employer” as having “twenty or more employees[,]” the Court analyzed other language surrounding this portion of the statute and held that the ADEA establishes two separate categories of employers:
1. Persons with twenty or more employees (private employers); AND
2. States or political subdivisions (public employers—no minimum number of employees needed).
The Court observed that the ADEA is like the Fair Labor Standards Act—which also applies to States and political subdivision employers regardless of the number of employees they have. The Court also took into account that the EEOC has—for the last thirty years—interpreted the ADEA to cover public employers regardless of their size. States have followed this interpretation, and a majority impose age discrimination proscriptions on political subdivisions with no minimum employee threshold.
So now in West Virginia, state and political subdivisions employers can be subject to claims of age discrimination under the ADEA or the West Virginia Human Rights Act, regardless of the number of employees they have.
A copy of the Supreme Court’s opinion can be viewed here.