The term year of the Supreme Court of the United States starts in October and ends in October. The first decision of the Supreme Court in term year 2018 was delivered on 6 November 2018. The case before the Supreme Court was Mount Lemmon Fire District, Petitioner v. John Guido, et al. This case was about the interpretation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (the ADEA). The relevant provisions of this Act, as codified in the United States Code, are:
29 U.S.C. Section 623(a): ‘It shall be unlawful for an employer – (1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age;’, and 29 U.S.C. Section 630 under b: ‘For the purposes of this chapter – ‘(b) The term "employer" means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year: […]. The term also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State and any agency or instrumentality of a State or a political subdivision of a State, and any interstate agency, but such term does not include the United States, or a corporation wholly owned by the Government of the United States.’ (italics added).
Mount Lemmon Fire District was a political subdivision in Arizona. Mount Lemmon Fire District, faced with budget deficiencies, laid off two full-time firefighters. These firefighters were John Guido, aged 46, and Dennis Rankin, aged 54. Both firefighters were among the oldest firefighters employed by Mount Lemmon Fire District. Both firefighters challenged their dismissal because, in their opinion, the dismissals violated the ADEA.
Mount Lemmon Fire District reasoned that it fell outside the scope of the ADEA because it employed less than 20 employees; and because the words ‘twenty or more employees’ in 29 U.S.C. Section 630 under b not only referred to commercial industries, but also to agents of commercial industries, States, political subdivisions of a State, and interstate agencies. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had rejected this reasoning on the argument that 29 U.S.C. Section 630 under b related to two separate categories of employers: commercial industries employing 20 of more employees; and agents of commercial industries, States, political subdivisions of a State, and interstate agencies, regardless of the number of employees they employed.
The Supreme Court phrased the question to be answered as follows: ‘Does “also means” add new categories to the definition of “employer,” or does it merely clarify that States and their political subdivisions are a type of “person” included in §630(b)’s first sentence? If the former, state and local governments are covered by the ADEA regardless of whether they have as many as 20 employees. If the latter, they are covered only if they have at least 20 employees. Federal courts have divided on this question.’. The Supreme Court sided with the United States Court Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Supreme Court considered inter alia that:
‘First and foremost, the ordinary meaning of “also means” is additive rather than clarifying.’; ‘Instructive as well, the phrase “also means” occurs dozens of times throughout the U.S. Code, typically carrying an additive meaning.’; and ‘Furthermore, the text of §630(b) pairs States and their political subdivisions with agents, a discrete category that, beyond doubt, carries no numerical limitation.’. The Supreme Court of the United States, for these reasons, affirmed the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Read the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States.