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New Ruling Expands the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to Cover Small Government Employers

Age DiscriminationOn November 6, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, holding that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) applies to state and federal government employers regardless of their size. In Mount Lemmon, a small Arizona municipal fire department terminated its two oldest employees, arguing that it was exempt from the requirements of the ADEA because it had fewer than 20 employees. The Supreme Court disagreed and found that all government employers, regardless of size, are subject to the ADEA. The Supreme Court’s opinion focused its analysis on the phrase “also means” as it was used in the statute, finding that the phrase was additive as opposed to clarifying and meant that under the statute “employer” “also means … a State or political subdivision of a State.” As a result of the decision, employees working for state or federal government agencies with less than 20 employees now have protection against discrimination on the basis of age and it is important for such employees to be aware of their new rights and protections.

What is the ADEA?

The ADEA requires all employment decisions be based on a person’s skill and ability to perform his or her job responsibilities, as opposed to that person’s age. The ADEA protects employees over 40 years of age from discrimination on the basis of age in terms or conditions of employment, including in the hiring or promotion process. Some examples of age discrimination include:

  • Promoting or hiring younger employees over better qualified older employees
  • Laying off or terminating only the oldest employees in a company
  • Pressuring older employees to retire
  • Commenting on an older employee’s ability to perform the job
  • Excluding an older employee from work-related events, such as meetings or group projects
  • Disciplining older employees more harshly than younger employees 
  • Refusing to promote older employees despite their qualifications and experience

It should be noted that in New York, the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws protect against age discrimination regardless of the age of the employee and applies to any employer with four or more employees. With the recent Supreme Court ruling, all New York municipal or state agencies will now also be subject to the provisions of the ADEA regardless of the number of employees, subject of course to any immunity arguments on behalf of any municipal or state employer.

If you are an employee of a small state or federal agency, your employer may not be aware of the newly applicable rules of the ADEA. Age discrimination most often occurs when there are layoffs, changes in management, or performance reviews and with the recent change in the applicability of the ADEA a state or federal employer may not realize that they cannot terminate or discipline an employee simply because they are over 40 years of age.

If you are over 40 years of age and suddenly begin receiving poor reviews despite consistent performance, or if you are passed over for a promotion in favor of a younger less qualified employee, or you are subjected to repeated comments and jokes about your age you may be a subject of age discrimination. It is important to ensure that your rights are protected and if you feel that you have been discriminated against on the basis of your age please contact New York Employment Attorneys Borrelli & Associates today for a consultation.

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