Supreme Court rules state and local governments covered by age discrimination law regardless of size

Supreme Court rules state and local governments covered by age discrimination law regardless of size
© Stefani Reynolds

In a unanimous ruling Tuesday, the Supreme Court said state and local governments must follow labor laws that ban discrimination based on age regardless of how many employees they have.

The ruling is a win for John Guido and Dennis Rankin, two former Arizona firefighters, who argued the Mount Lemmon Fire District laid them off because of their age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). 

With fewer than 20 employees, the fire department argued it was too small to qualify as an employer that’s covered by the law. 

ADVERTISEMENT

When the ADEA was enacted in 1967 it only covered private sector employers and defined "employer" as a “person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees.”

But in delivering the 8-0 opinion of the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg settled a dispute over the proper reading of the law after it was amended in 1974 to say “the term also means any agent of such a person, and a state or political subdivision.”

Ginsburg said the court concluded that subsequent Congresses amended the law to add new categories of employers to the ADEA's reach, not to clarify the term person.

She compared her reading to the Fair Labor Standards Act, on which, she said much of the ADEA is based.

“Like the FLSA, the ADEA ranks states and political subdivisions as ‘employers’ regardless of the number of employees they have,” she said.

Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSenate barrels toward showdown over Trump's court picks Trump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship Sotomayor: Kavanaugh now part of the Supreme Court ‘family’ MORE did not take part part in considering the case since it was argued before he was confirmed to the bench.

The ruling is the first to come from the court this term.