What Are The Real Implications Of The Supreme Court Ruling On Age Discrimination?
CCH Offers Analysis of What It Means to State Employers and
(RIVERWOODS, ILL., January 14, 2000) The recent Supreme Court ruling on age
discrimination suits by state employees is expected to have a significant impact well
beyond the age bias issue, according to CCH INCORPORATED (CCH), a leading provider of
employment law and human resources information and software.
"The battle being waged here deals with state vs. federal rights; its just
being played out in the context of employment law," said Joy Waltemath, an attorney
and employment law analyst for CCH. "At this point, its apparent that this
Supreme Court is recognizing the specific rights of the states and sending Congress a
message not to overstep its bounds."
The Supreme Court case, Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents, was brought by
current and former employees of Florida State University and Florida International
University who sued the Florida Board of Regents. The employees contended that the
universities failure to fund salary increases resulted in disparities in pay that
were based unlawfully on age bias.
In its ruling on the case, the Supreme Court said state employees who are subjected to
age bias cant use the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) a
federal law to sue their employers in federal court.
Taking a Closer Look
According to CCH, two key issues were presented to the Court. The first was whether the
federal age discrimination law clearly showed congressional intent to override
states sovereign immunity from federal lawsuits, a right given to states under the
The Court found that changes to the ADEA in 1974 clearly were intended to permit an
individual to bring a civil action against any employer, including a public agency,
in federal or state court.
But the Court's inquiry couldn't end there because of the Court's 1996 decision in Seminole
Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, which held that Congress' powers under Article 1 do not
include the power to subject states to suit at the hands of private individuals. Congress
has that power under the 14th Amendment, but only to protect constitutionally
Ultimately, the Court found Congress does not have the same authority under the 14th
Amendment to protect employees against age discrimination as it does when the
discrimination is based on race, national origin or religion, which the Court deemed
"suspect classifications," warranting higher levels of scrutiny.
"Essentially, the Court is making a distinction between two classifications:
suspect classifications, such as race and religion, where any discrimination is
intolerable; and non-suspect classifications, such as age, where there may be a legitimate
cause for some type of decisions based on age," said Waltemath. "For example,
some states have mandatory retirement laws for emergency personnel, based on the belief
that age does affect the individuals ability to do the job. In these instances, the
Court is saying that federal law cant supersede states rights to make these
decisions, so long as there is a rational basis for the decision."
Specifically, said Justice OConnor, writing for the majority, "States may
discriminate on the basis of age without offending the 14th Amendment if the
age classification in question is rationally related to a legitimate state interest."
Now What: Implications of the Ruling
Together with a Supreme Court ruling handed down last year, this ruling dealing with
federal court suits now makes it impossible for state employees to sue their employers
successfully under the ADEA. Last June, the Supreme Court held in Alden v. Maine
that Congress does not have the power to subject non-consenting states to private damages
suits in state courts.
"However, state employees are not left without recourse," said Waltemath.
"Almost every state protects state employees from age discrimination through state
laws that allow age bias victims to recover monetary damages."
In addition, although the decision didn't mention other federal employment laws, the
Court's reasoning may apply to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), since
disability, like age discrimination, is not a suspect class in the eyes of the Court,
according to CCH.
"From a practical perspective, the outcome of this decision will be to focus more
attention on state legislative action and state courts as protectors of employee rights,
so that state employees don't become second-class citizens with respect to
protection against employment discrimination," said Waltemath. "Those states
that don't already have age discrimination or disability protections are likely to find
their legislatures pressured to enact preventative measures."
About CCH INCORPORATED
CCH INCORPORATED, Riverwoods, Ill., is a leading provider of tax and business law
information and software for human resources, accounting, legal, securities, health care,
banking and small business professionals. The companys Health and Human Resources
Group is among the nations most noted authoritative sources of employment law,
including information on benefits, compensation, worker safety and human resources
management. CCH is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer U.S. The CCH web site can
be accessed at www.cch.com. The CCH Human
Resources Group web site can be accessed at hr.cch.com.
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