The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) prohibits discrimination in employment because of a person’s age. 29 USC §623. Initially both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the ADEA only applied to private employers. Congress amended the ADEA in 1974 by adding state and local governments to the definition of “employer.” However, due to the fact that for private employers only those with at least 20 employees are subject to the ADEA resulted in a dispute among the federal courts on whether ADEA coverage was similarly limited to only those state and local governments with at least 20 employees.
Faced with a budget shortfall the Mount Lemmon Fire District, an Arizona political subdivision, laid off two of its oldest full-time firefighters, John Guido (then 46) and Dennis Rankin (then 54). Guido and Rankin sued the Fire District claiming their termination violated the ADEA. Because the District had fewer than 20 employees it argued in court that it was not subject to the ADEA. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagree ruling that the definition of covered employer under the ADEA established two separate categories; private employers with 20 or more employees and States or political subdivisions regardless of the number of employees. The Supreme Court affirmed this ruling noting that although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only covers state and local government employers with at least 15 employees, the language employed by Congress when it amended the ADEA in 1974 contained no numerosity requirement. Therefore all State and local government employers must comply with the ADEA regardless of the number of their employees.
Practice Pointer: Age discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age. The ADEA forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. The law also prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. An employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of age, can be illegal if it has a negative impact on applicants or employees age 40 or older and is not based on a reasonable factor other than age.