Age discrimination is a prohibited employment action under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Employers in a variety of industries are not allowed to make adverse employment and hiring decisions about individuals based upon their ages. In Minnesota and other jurisdictions, cities and other local governments often fall under these rules, though prior to a recent United States Supreme Court decision the number of employees a municipality or group employed may have exempt it from the ADEA.
An age discrimination case arose in Arizona that involved the termination of two firefighters who were both over the age of 40. The men sued their former employer and claimed that they were the victims of age discrimination. Their employer, however, countered that the ADEA did not apply to them because they employed fewer than 20 workers.
The district court that heard the matter agreed with the employer, though the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s decision. The matter was then appealed to the Supreme Court, which accepted the matter and took it under consideration.
Just this month the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that affirmed the decision of the Ninth Circuit. Noting that an amendment to the ADEA included state and local governments as employers under the law and that the subsequent Fair Labor Standards Act effectively made the ADEA apply to all government bodies, the Supreme Court found that government employers cannot discriminate based on age, regardless of their size.
Older workers often fear that their age will be used against them in their places of employment. The decision of the Supreme Court demonstrates, however, that the laws in place regarding this damaging form of discrimination will be enforced and that workers have rights to protect their jobs.