Tuesday, October 9, 2018
Last week (yeah, I'm still catching up), the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido. It's one of those technical cases that hinges on textual question's about the ADEA's definition of "employer." In particular, at issue is whether the ADEA's usual 20-employee small employer exception applies to government employers. There's no question that the exception applies to private employers, but because of the way the provision is written, its application to public employers is less clear. Because the text is so important, let me quote the relevant part (Sec. 11(b)):
(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: Provided, That prior to June 30, 1968, employers having fewer than fifty employees shall not be considered employers. 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.
As you can see, the small-employer exception is in a separate sentence from the sentence that includes public employers under the ADEA. That's what the plaintiffs stress and the 9th Circuit held. But four other circuits went the other way, holding that "person" includes public employers. Charlotte Garden's (Seattle) provided an argument analysis in SCOTUSblog. Although she's too wise to make a prediction, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I think the plaintiff is going to win this one. Not unanimous, but questions from some of the conservative justices (e.g., Roberts) makes me think that the more grammatical reading of the text is going to win the day. Also, I hope someone mentions to Justice Alito that if the Court is going to align the ADEA's coverage to Title VII's simply because they were enacted a couple of years apart from each other, then the Court needs to overrule all of its cases where it expressly rejected that argument when it came to interpreting the 1991 Civil Rights Act Amendments (e.g., Nasser and Gross).