Now that the same-sex marriage oral arguments are in the rear view, it is time to focus on the remainder of the 2013 term. While the remaining cases may not be as groundbreaking, there are a number of significant constitutional issues for the Supreme Court to tackle.
For instance, the justices recently agreed to take on age discrimination, one of the most common types of employment lawsuits. The specific issue before the Court is whether state and local government employees can avoid the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) by bringing age discrimination claims directly under the Equal Protection Clause.
The Facts of the Case
Harvey N. Levin was terminated from his position as an Illinois Assistant Attorney General at the age of 61. After the office replaced him with a younger lawyer, Levin filed a lawsuit alleging that his termination not only violated the ADEA, but also the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The defendants, who included the State of Illinois, the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (in both her individual and official capacity), and four other individual state employees, sought to dismiss the Constitutional claim. They argued that the ADEA displaced all other remedies for age discrimination claims.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the ADEA does not preclude equal protection claims. Accordingly, it denied the individual defendants qualified immunity.
The Issues Before the Court
The Supreme Court likely agreed to hear the case because the circuit courts have reached divergent results when asked to consider this issue. They are currently split 4-1, with the Seventh Circuit departing from the others.
Section 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, codified as 42 U.S.C. § 1983, “authorizes suits to enforce individual rights under federal statutes as well as the Constitution” against state and local government officials. However, in evaluating the limits of relief available under § 1983 for statutory claims, the Supreme Court has held that “[w]hen the remedial devices provided in a particular Act are sufficiently comprehensive, they may suffice to demonstrate congressional intent to preclude the remedy of suits under § 1983.”
Thus, the key question before the Court will be whether Congress intended to limit other remedies when including state and federal employees under the protection of the ADEA, a determination the Supreme Court generally does not take lightly.