The Court ruled 8-0 that the ADEA applies to state and local governments regardless of the number of employees employed by the unit of government. The ADEA defines “employer” as a “person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has 20 or more employees” or “(1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State.” Some government agencies had interpreted the definition to mean that the law only applied to government employers with 20 or more employees. In an opinion written by Justice Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the definition of “employer” separated private employers with 20 or more employees from state and local government employers with any number of employees.
The lawsuit involved a challenge against the District when it laid off two employees who claimed they were terminated because of their age in violation of the ADEA. The District argued that the ADEA did not apply because the District employs fewer than 20 people. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, and the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which upheld the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in favor of the two employees.
This is a significant ruling for small units of government that may have taken the position that they were not subject to the ADEA because they employed less than 20 people.