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Abstract

In Guido v. Mount Lemmon Fire District, the Ninth Circuit split with four other circuits in its understanding of the definition of employer under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). For decades, the other circuits found that the ADEA’s definition of employer excluded both private and public entities that did not meet the statute’s numerosity requirement of twenty or more employees. The Ninth Circuit broke with this interpretation and found that the ADEA’s numerosity requirement was applicable only to private entities. This ruling established that employing fewer than twenty people does not exempt a public entity employer from the ADEA’s ban on age discrimination – a decision that expands the ADEA’s protection a whole new class of employees. The Ninth Circuit’s decision took an ambiguous statute and forced clarity from its text, in contrast to the prior circuits’ rulings that found the statute ambiguous on its face and forced clarity from the legislative history. Ultimately, it is Congress’s role to refine this statute, so employers and employees can be clear on their duties and rights with respect to age discrimination in the employment setting.

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