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Supreme Court rules unanimously on age-discrimination case

Federal age-discrimination laws apply to governmental entities regardless of their size, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its first opinion of the court's current term.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the court's unanimous 8-0 decision, which was announced November 6.

The case dealt with language contained in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The ADEA protects individuals over 40 from age discrimination in the workplace. The law applies to employees and applicants. 

The text in the law defines "employer" as a person or entity that has 20 or more employees. However, the language in the law later says it "also means" a state or a political subdivision of a state.

The Supreme Court heard the case because lower courts disagreed in their interpretation of the law.

The specifics of the case

The case dealt with the Mount Lemmon Fire District of Arizona. In 2009, the fire district laid off its two oldest firefighters, who were 54 and 46 years old at the time. The men sued. They alleged age discrimination, but the fire district argued that it was too small to qualify as an employer under ADEA.

The Supreme Court’s decision means the men can continue with their lawsuit.

In its arguments, the fire district said that applying the law to small units of government could put vital public services at risk.

That argument failed to persuade Ginsburg.

“For 30 years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has consistently interpreted the ADEA as we do today,” she wrote. “And a majority of states forbid age discrimination by political subdivisions of any size. . .No untoward service shrinkages have been documented.”

Do you have questions?

If you believe you have been discriminated against due to your age, contact an employment attorney who focuses on this area of the law.

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