Case Name: Mt. Lemmon Fire Dist. v. Guido, 2018 WL 5794639

Filed: November 6, 2018 by the United States Supreme Court (No. 17-587)

Subject matter: Application of 20-employee minimum for ADEA coverage to states or political subdivisions.

The ADEA defines “employer” for purposes of defining entities subject to its protections as follows:

“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).  The Eighth Circuit, along with the Sixth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits, applied the 20-employee minimum to states and their political subdivisions.  See, e.g., Palmer v. Arkansas Council on Economic Educ., 154 F.3d 892 (8th Cir. 1998).  In the underlying case, the Ninth Circuit disagreed, causing the Supreme Court to grant cert. and settle the circuit split.

The Mt. Lemon Fire District, a political subdivision in Arizona, was faced with budget shortfalls and laid of its two oldest full-time firefighters, aged 46 and 54, defending against their ADEA claims on the basis of its small size.  In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s holding that the Mt. Lemon Fire District was subject to the requirements of the ADEA regardless of its size.  The Court relied on the phrase “also means” in the two-sentence delineation of the definition of “employer” to conclude that states and their political subdivisions are not subject to the 20-employee minimum.  The Court noted that its interpretation made the ADEA different than Title VII, where the 15-employee minimum applies to states and political subdivisions, based on the differing language used by Congress when it amended the respective statutes in 1972 and 1974. The Court also noted its interpretation made the ADEA consistent with the FLSA, on which parts of the ADEA had been modeled, and which reaches all government employers regardless of their size.

Dana L. Oxley
Dana Oxley is Counsel at Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, P.L.C. Dana uses her writing and research experience in motion work and appellate work.