Eight years ago, fire captains John Guido and Dennis Rankin were terminated by the Mount Lemmon fire district when they were 46 and 54, respectively. They filed suit alleging they were discriminated against based upon their age. There were fewer than 20 employees working for the fire district, and in many federal circuits, that would have been grounds to dismiss the case, as 20 employees is the magic number for coverage by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
Not so in Guido v. Mount Lemmon Fire Dist. (9th Cir. 2017), where the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Congress intended to cover fire departments as political subdivisions of the state, regardless of the number of people employed. They followed the view of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s amicus brief, which states that ADEA covers all political subdivisions, even if they don’t have 20 employees, since ADEA covers the state and any subdivision.
Other federal appeals courts have decided differently, following the Seventh Circuit holding in Kelly v. Wauconda Park District (7th Cir. 1986). Those courts said the better reading of the Act is that Congress intended the 20-employee threshold to apply to all employers, public as well as private.
Now that the Ninth Circuit has broken with the other circuits, this seems destined to go up to the U.S. Supreme Court for their final say on the matter. Of course, if that happens, we will tell you all about it.