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U.S. Supreme Court Extends Age Discrimination Protections to Small Government Units

    Client Alerts
  • November 20, 2018

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act generally covers employers with 20 or more employees. On November 6, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that ADEA also protects employees of small state and local government entities. In Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, two employees sued a small state government agency for age discrimination after they were laid off. The district claimed that it had fewer than 20 employees and therefore was not subject to ADEA jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit disagreed with four other federal appellate circuits, concluding that the jurisdictional limit does not apply to state and local governments.

In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court agreed with the Ninth Circuit. The Supreme Court’s opinion involved a detailed reading of the ADEA jurisdiction requirement, concluding that the 20-employee minimum only applies to businesses engaged in interstate commerce. State and local governments are covered under another part of the definition that does not have a size requirement. The Supreme Court found this provision to be consistent with its definition of coverage under Title VII. Based on this decision, state and local government entities should analyze the potential impact of age on employment decisions, regardless of the size of the employer.