On November 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Mount Lemon Fire District v. Guido, No. 17-587, holding that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) applies to States and political subdivisions of States regardless of the number of people the State or political subdivision employs.
Plaintiffs Guido and Rankin filed an ADEA suit against the Mount Lemon Fire District, a political subdivision of the State of Arizona, claiming that the district had terminated them based on their age. The Fire District moved to dismiss the suit based on its argument that the ADEA did not apply to the district because it had fewer than 20 employees.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s decision rejecting the Fire District’s argument. Under the ADEA, “[t]he 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 Court noted that the ADEA had originally applied only to private employers, that Congress had expanded coverage to States and their political subdivisions in 1972, and that Congress had added the section (b)(2) definition quoted above in 1974. The Court concluded that the ordinary meaning of the phrase “also means” is additive rather than clarifying, and that Congress’s use of the phrase in other federal statutes also supports an additive meaning. The Court also observed that imposing the 20-employee requirement on the States and political subdivisions in section (b)(2) but not on the agents in section (b)(1) would be “strange.” Finally, the Court rejected the district’s attempt to analogize the definition to the numerosity requirement in Title VII, noting the different language in the two statutes.
Justice Ginsburg delivered the decision for a unanimous Court. Justice Kavanaugh did not participate in the decision.