Pension & Benefits News ADEA’s 20-employee minimum does not apply to state entities or political subdivisions
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Friday, November 30, 2018

ADEA’s 20-employee minimum does not apply to state entities or political subdivisions

By Pension and Benefits Editorial Staff

Siding with the Ninth Circuit on an issue over which the federal appeals courts have been divided, Justice Ginsburg, writing for a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court, held that “the text of the ADEA’s definitional provision, also its kinship to the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] and differences from Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964], leave scant room for doubt that state and local governments are ‘employer[s]’ covered by the ADEA regardless of their size.”

When Mount Lemmon Fire District, a political subdivision in Arizona, laid off its two oldest full-time firefighters at the ages of 46 and 54, they sued alleging their terminations violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) Sec. 11(b) (i.e., 29 U.S.C. Sec. 630(b)). Granting summary judgment in favor of the Fire District, the district court held that the ADEA’s 20-employee minimum applies to political subdivisions and the Fire District was too small to qualify as an employer under the Act. Reversing, the Ninth Circuit, disagreeing with four of its sister circuits which found the statutory provision at issue ambiguous, held that a political subdivision of a state need not have 20 or more employees in order to qualify as an employer under the ADEA.

The ADEA’s numerosity specification (20 or more employees), which is applicable to a “person engaged in an industry affecting commerce” does not apply to state entities (including state political subdivisions), wrote Ginsburg, explaining that ADEA Sec. 11(b)’s two-sentence delineation, and the expression “also means” at the start of the second sentence, combine to establish separate categories: persons engaged in an industry affecting commerce with 20 or more employees and states or political subdivisions with no attendant numerosity limitation. “[T]wenty or more employees” is confining language, the Court explained, observing that “the confinement is tied to §630(b)’s first sentence, and does not limit the ADEA’s governance of the employment practices of States and political subdivisions thereof.”

Justice Kavanaugh took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

SOURCE: Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, U.S. Supreme Court, Dkt. No. 17-587.

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