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Company size doesn't excuse age-based employment discrimination

California workers who believe that they've been discriminated against because of their age might be encouraged by news of an appeals court ruling. Two workers initiated the lawsuit after the Arizona firefighting district where they formerly served as captains unjustly fired them in 2009. At the time, one of the men was a 54-year-old and the other was 46. It took them until 2017 to win a favorable ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over California.

The decision goes against prior rulings handed down by four other courts that all held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act only applied to enterprises with at least 20 workers. Where the 9th Circuit differed was in its opinion that while this ADEA provision indeed applied to private-sector firms, it made exemptions for state political subdivisions. Since the fire district was a part of the government, the ADEA applied regardless of the number of employees.

An attorney for the two ex-firefighters indicated her hope that this interpretation of the law would open the door to the possibility of a jury trial. An attorney representing the district in the case, however, said that his client was probably going to pursue the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Employers who discriminate against workers do so for a broad range of reasons, and their illegal actions take diverse forms. In addition to outright terminating people's employment, they might cultivate discriminatory workplace environments in order to force their victims out. Employment attorneys who have experience with these matters may be able to help victims build cases and pursue settlements.

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