Age Discrimination Act

Supreme Court Finds that Small State and Local Governments

Are Covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.


At the end of the Court’s 2018 Term, the United States Supreme Court decided Mount Lemmon Fire Protection Dist. v. Guido, which addressed whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act’s definition of “employer” applies to state entities that have fewer than 20 employees.  Justice Ginsburg, writing for a unanimous Court, found that it does.  This means that small state and local government entities are subject to the requirements of the ADEA regardless how many employees they have.  Private employers with fewer than 20 employees still do not fall within the ADEA’s definition of an employer.

The Court focused on the definitional section noting that the words “also means” are additive in nature rather than clarifying.  This type of language is found in many places throughout the United States Code and almost always carries an additive meaning.  The Court was not persuaded that the ADEA should necessarily be interpreted in the same manner as Title VII given the different language Congress chose in each statute.  Title VII generally does not apply to state and local governments with fewer than 15 employees.  However, that alone was not a strong reason to believe that Congress intended the ADEA to be interpreted in the same way.  Indeed, both the ADEA and FLSA count state and local governments as “employers” regardless of how many employees they have.

In resolving a split of federal authority on the matter, the Court held, “[i]n short, the text of the ADEA’s definitional provision, also its kinship to the FLSA and differences from Title VII, leave scant room for doubt that state and local governments are “employer[s]” covered by the ADEA regardless of their size.”  Mount Lemmon, Case No. 17-587 (decided Nov. 6, 2018).  The takeaway for small government entities is to ensure compliance with the ADEA, which protects employees over the age of forty.


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