In a unanimous vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of two Arizona firefighters in a lawsuit against the Mount Lemmon Fire District. The firefighters, the two most senior crew members at the time, claimed they were fired based on their age. The Mount Lemmon Fire District argued the employees were let go due to lack of participation in volunteer assignments. Adding to their arguments, the Fire District also claimed the age discrimination law did not apply to them because they had 13 employees at the time the oldest employees were let go. This, they believed, put them well below the 20-person threshold requirement for the private sector.
While the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) covers private-sector employers with 20 or more employees, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a statement that the ADEA covers state and local governments without regard to the number of workers they employ. This comes from, as Ginsburg noted, the 1974 amendment that says the term employer “also means a State or political subdivision of a State and any agency or instrumentality of a State or a political subdivision of a State” without any numerical threshold. Knowing your rights and responsibilities as both an employer and employee is valuable in maintaining proper workplace compliance and knowing how to respond when things don’t go as they should.