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Recent U.S. Supreme Court case addresses age discrimination law

Competing in the American business realm is a challenging endeavor. We duly note on our website at the proven Connecticut commercial law firm of Berdon, Young & Margolis that company owners and entrepreneurs focused on long-term business viability "know how difficult it is."

Candidly, there is an overwhelming amount of information to routinely digest and respond to. We spotlight on our site a representative listing of potential "business problems" that commercial principals routinely face. Those run a broad gamut from formation and contractual issues to financing, dispute resolution and more.

And they certainly include employment-linked concerns, which are also bullet-point entries on our list.

One particular employment law matter that has vexed Connecticut and national employers in the public sphere for decades can be underscored via the asking of this simple question: Can federal age discrimination laws be invoked by employees of any state and/or local government entity, or only in cases where those entities are of a threshold size?

That was the question considered by the nation's highest court in a recent lawsuit invoking the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The U.S. Supreme Court was asked to rule in a matter brought by two comparatively older firefighters who alleged their unlawful firing by a local fire district in one state. The defendant countered that the ADEA was inapplicable, given that it did not apply in cases involving government employers having fewer than 20 workers.

The court ruled otherwise, finally putting to rest a decades-long ambiguity resulting from an amendment to the 1967-authored ADEA that extended age discrimination protections to include government entities in addition to private employers.

One view regarding the amendment stressed that a claim could only be brought against public-sector employers with 20 or more workers, which is the standard relevant to private employers under the ADEA. A contrasting view has long maintained that the amendment enables discrimination claims to be brought against any public employee, regardless of size.

The court's 8-0 ruling delivered last week sanctioned the latter, which now enables the firefighters' case to proceed.

The case is obviously noteworthy in a broad way. Public-sector employers and workers having questions or concerns regarding the ruling and its implications can contact an experienced business law firm for guidance and, when necessary, diligent legal representation.

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