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Does the Number of Employees at My Job Affect My Discrimination Claim?

Posted on in Employment

employment discrimination,  San Jose employment lawyer, age discrimination, anti-discrimination laws,  discrimination claimWhen it comes to employment discrimination, not all employers are equal. Federal and state laws actually “discriminate” against employers based on their size. That is to say, anti-discrimination laws may only apply to businesses that have a specified minimum number of employees.

For example, most federal laws protecting workers from discrimination based on race, sex, or national origin can only be enforced against businesses with 15 or more employees. In contrast, California's Fair Employment and Housing Act generally applies to businesses with just five or more employees. Additionally, some laws, such as the federal Equal Pay Act which requires men and women be paid the same for “substantially equal” work, apply to all employers regardless of the total number of employees.

California Court Rules Local Governments Not Subject to Minimum-Employee Rule Under ADEA

Most employment discrimination laws also apply to public employers, including cities, counties, and other “political subdivisions” of the State of California. A federal appeals court in San Francisco recently addressed the applicability of a minimum-employee requirement to political subdivisions under a key anti-discrimination law designed to protect older workers.

This case actually began in Arizona. The plaintiffs worked as firefighters for a local fire department, which itself was a political subdivision of the State of Arizona. The plaintiffs said they were fired after nine years due to their age.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law that protects workers over the age of 40. Among other things, a covered employer may not set “arbitrary age limits” for employment. This includes terminating an employee “because of his age.”

The ADEA defines a covered “employer” as any “person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has 20 or more employees.” A “person,” in turn, is defined as an individual or business entity. A covered employer “also” includes a “State or political subdivision of a State.”

But does a political subdivision also have to meet the 20-employee minimum? This is what the appeals court was asked to decide. The fire department in this case had less than 20 employees. On that basis, it argued it was not covered by the ADEA.

The plaintiffs replied that the ADEA actually creates a “distinct” category of public employers, including the fire department, that do not have to meet the 20-employee requirement for private businesses. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. The Court said the “plain meaning” of the ADEA supported this interpretation.

However, several other federal appeals courts have reached the opposite conclusion. The Seventh Circuit, which is based in Chicago, has said the ADEA is “ambiguous” and political subdivisions are subject to the 20-employee minimum. Given the Ninth Circuit's contrary position, it is possible this case may eventually be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Have You Been a Victim of Age Discrimination in Northern California?

Anti-discrimination laws are inherently complex. Even as an affected employee, you may not fully understand what laws protect you under what circumstances. This is why it is important to work with an experienced San Jose employment lawyer if you suspect you have been the victim of illegal discrimination. The attorneys at Jachimowicz Law Group are ready to assist you. Call us today at 408-246-5500 to schedule a free consultation.








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