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Federal appeals courts divided on age discrimination

Older workers know that age discrimination is a real issue in the workplace, but federal appeals courts throughout the country have been unclear about how to interpret certain aspects the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit which has jurisdiction over California ruled in a June case that protection extends to employees of public entities regardless of the number of people employed.

Language in the act sets a threshold of 20 employees at an organization before the law applies, but the 9th Circuit decided that an amendment to the act from 1974 extended protection to all government workers regardless of the number of staff. The 20-employee rule should only exempt small private employers. In the case in question, the 9th Circuit examined the claims of two men, ages 46 and 54, who were dismissed by the Mount Lemmon Fire District.

The fire district argued that the ADEA did not apply to its small organization. An attorney for the fire district said that it might petition the Supreme Court of the United States to hear the case and issue a final interpretation. Federal appeals courts in four other circuits have interpreted the ADEA as only granting protection to workers at companies with at least 20 employees regardless of their status as public or private.

Someone who believes that age discrimination played a role in losing a job or being denied a promotion might want to ask an attorney for advice. Apparent violations could justify filing a lawsuit against the employer. To build the case, the attorney could interview co-workers and request payroll and human resources records of younger employees in similar positions.

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