Age Discrimination Case Heard by U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in an age discrimination lawsuit brought by a former district attorney from Illinois. balance2

The high court was asked to determine whether the Age Discrimination Employment Act is the only remedy through which individuals may seek recourse for discrimination on the basis of age.

However, our Costa Mesa age discrimination attorneys understand that the case of Madigan v. Levin may not even get that far, as the justices appeared to focus less on the merits of the case and more on whether it was one they should be deciding at all.

According to court documents, the plaintiff had worked as a state assistant attorney general from 2000 until he was fired in 2006. At the time, he was over the age of 60. He believes the action was taken as a result of both his age and gender.

In performance reviews, the plaintiff consistently met or exceeded his employer’s expectations in a dozen job categories. However, his employer says his productivity was low, he socialized too much, and he had inferior litigation skills. While these points weren’t made in his evaluations, his employer says they were discussed with him on numerous occasions.

He was one of 12 attorneys who were fired from the state office at one time. He was replaced by a female attorney in her 30s. Two other terminated attorneys were also replaced by younger female employees. Other positions were left unfilled.

The plaintiff filed his case for age and gender discrimination on the basis of the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA), the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

When arguing the case in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the Illinois State Attorney General’s Office claimed that the plaintiff’s complaints under ADEA displaced his constitutional claims made under the other two employment protection laws. The Seventh Circuit in turn ruled that ADEA is not the exclusive remedy for workers seeking compensation for age discrimination.

This meant the plaintiff had the green light to present his claims at trial. However before that could happen, the attorney general’s office appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to answer whether state and local government employees can avoid filing a federal ADEA claim by bringing an age discrimination directly under the Equal Protection Clause.

Based on the first day of oral arguments, it’s not clear whether the high court will ever get around to addressing that question. Rather, the court seemed more concerned that the appellate court may have issued an overly-broad ruling prior to the trial. What’s more, the plaintiff’s claim may not even fall under ADEA in the first place because he is a political appointee. That means technically, he isn’t recognized as “an employee” under the law.

It’s possible that his claim could fall under the Government Employee Rights Act. However, that was not an issue that was ever brought up during briefs in the case.

As such, Chief Justice Roberts made the suggestion that the case sent back to the lower courts to determine whether there are any issues that remain for the high court to decide.

While the case hasn’t formally been sent back yet, it appears that’s the direction it’s headed – without an answer on the question of whether Congress intended to displace a plaintiff’s civil rights when ADEA was enacted.

Additional Resources:

Not Ready For SCOTUS – Age Discrimination Case Goes Sideways, Oct. 7, 2013, By Shane Farnan, Talk Radio News Service

More Blog Entries:

California Age Discrimination Case Filed Against Local Government, Oct. 8, 2013, Costa Mesa Age Discrimination Lawyer Blog