SCOTUS: ADEA’s Employee-Numerosity Requirement Does Not Apply to States and Their Political Subdivisions

In Mount Lemmon Fire Dist. v. Guido, 2018 WL 5794639 (U.S. Nov. 6, 2018), the Supreme Court (in an opinion delivered by Justice Ginsburg), broadly interpreted the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

The facts, briefly: John Guido and Dennis Rankin were the two oldest employees of the Mount Lemmon Fire District, a political subdivision in Arizona, when they were laid off. They sued, alleging age discrimination under the ADEA. The District sought to dismiss plaintiffs’ suit, on the ground that the District was too small to qualify as an “employer” under the ADEA.

The ADEA – codified at 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. – prohibits “employers” from discriminating against employees on the basis of age (40 or older). The statute provides, in its definitional section:

The term ‘employer’ means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees…. The term also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State….” 29 U.S.C. § 630(b).

Here is the “question presented” – i.e., the specific issue addressed and resolved by the Court:

Does the ADEA’s numerosity specification (20 or more employees), applicable to “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce,” apply as well to state entities (including state political subdivisions)?

The answer? No. From the opinion:

We hold … that § 630(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, but 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.

Here is the opinion:

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