Age Bias Law Applies to Local Agencies

In a victory for victims of age discrimination, local government agencies do not need to have more than 20 employees to be held accountable under federal age discrimination law, a federal appeals court has held in an Arizona case by two fire captains.

John Guido and Dennis Rankin won reinstatement of their 2013 age discrimination suit against the Mount Lemmon Fire Department in Arizona. Guido and Rankin were both captains in 2009 when then were terminated, Guido at the age of 46, and Rankin at age 54.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 includes a provision that it only applies to private businesses with 20 or more employees. The law was amended in 1974 to extend the law’s application to state and federal government bodies. The Mount Lemmon Fire Dept. argued that this meant application of the law to subdivisions of the state (such as Mt. Lemmon) with more than 20 employees.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Monday found that the law specifically says it applies to private employers with at least 20 workers, and to the federal and state governments.

In so doing, the 9th Circuit rejected  the holdings of four other circuits that the law is ambiguous.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which supported the two fire captains, argued in an amicus brief that “Congress knew how to use language to ensure that an employee minimum applied to political subdivisions when it wanted.”

Four other circuits, The Cinncinati-based 6th, the Chicago-based 7th, the St. Louis-based 8th and the Denver-based 10th all found the law ambiguous.

“We are persuaded that the meaning of Section 630(b) is not ambiguous,” wrote Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain. “The twenty-employee minimum does not apply to definitions in the second sentence and there is no reason to depart from the statute’s plain meaning,” he said.

He as joined by Judges Ronald Gould and Milan Smith.

The ruling reinstates the age discrimination lawsuit by Guido and Rankin, which had been dismissed. It will go forward before U.S. District Judge James Soto in Arizona.

Case: Guido v. Mt. Lemmon Fire District, No. 15-15030



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