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United States Supreme Court rules that all local government entities comply with ADEA

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

On November 6, 2018, in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, the United States Supreme Court held that all state and local governments, no matter their size or how many employees they have, must comply with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The ADEA was enacted to protect workers against “arbitrary age discrimination.” Private employers with less than 20 employees are not bound by the ADEA and cannot be sued for violations of the law. Many lower courts across the country (including the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, where Missouri is located) have held that local governments with less than 20 employees are similarly not bound by the ADEA. That position was rejected in Mount Lemmon Fire District. In that case, a small fire district in Arizona was faced with a budget shortfall and laid off its two oldest firefighters. The firefighters sued, alleging age discrimination in violation of the ADEA. The fire district, in defense, argued that the definition of “employer” in the ADEA was limited to political subdivisions with “twenty or more employees,” and therefore that the ADEA did not apply, because the fire district employs only 11 full time employees. The fire district argued that applying the ADEA to small local governments could require governments to cut services due to an increase in costs. The United States Supreme Court rejected those arguments and ruled that the strict language of the ADEA requires that all local governments, regardless of size, comply with the antidiscrimination provisions. The Court also noted that many states already have specific state legislation that prohibits age discrimination by local governments. Missouri is one such state, as §§ 213.010 and 213.055 RSMo., prohibit age discrimination by political subdivisions that employ 6 or more persons. Accordingly, it is now clear that local governments in Missouri may be sued under the ADEA, even if they have fewer than 20 employees.

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