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Supreme Court Ruling States That ADEA Applies to Public Employers with Less Than 20 Employees

A new unanimous ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido states that all public employers in every state must now comply with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), regardless of how many or how few individuals the organization employs.

Prior to 1974, the ADEA only applied to private employers, which meant that employees of public entities were not protected by law against age discrimination. In 1974, Congress amended the ADEA to include a wider range of employers. Specifically, Congress modified the definition of “employer” to include public employers that had twenty or more employees. However, since the amendment was made, courts interpreted the definition in ways that prevented certain states and political subdivisions from being subject to the ADEA.

In Mount Lemmon, two seasoned fire fighters from Mount Lemmon, Arizona were terminated after budget cuts. The two firefighters claimed that they were discriminated against due to their age, and that the fire department was in violation of the ADEA.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) agreed, but the federal district court found in favor of the fire department, because it was a public employer with fewer than 20 employees.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, stating that the language of the ADEA created a distinction between a “person” employer, who must have at least twenty employees, and a public employer, to whom the 20 employee threshold does not apply. Other circuit courts likewise found the language ambiguous. The Supreme Court granted a review of the case due to the circuit split.

The key issue in the case had to do with the phrase “also means” in the definition clause, and whether it added new categories of employers, or simply clarified the employees mentioned in the clause. The firefighters argued that the wording added new categories of employees, while the Fire District claimed that the language clarified the term “person” to include any organized group of persons, which includes state and local employers.

The Supreme Court found that the phrase, “also means” is additive in nature. As a result, state and political subdivisions are considered an additional category of employers, and thus do not need to satisfy the 20 employee threshold.

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at the Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Represent Clients in Age Discrimination Cases

Philadelphia employment lawyers at the Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. protect employees who have been discriminated against due to their age. To set up a confidential consultation, call us today at 215-574-0600 or contact us online. Our offices are located in Philadelphia, where we represent clients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.