U.S. Supreme Court to Begin its New Term with Oral Arguments on an Important Age Discrimination Case

By:  Timothy C. Haughee

October 4, 2013

Against the backdrop of a continuing government shutdown, the U.S. Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would begin hearing cases next week for its new term.  One of the first cases to be heard – Madigan v. Levin – is an Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) case with constitutional implications.

A brief recitation of the facts is as follows:  Mr. Levin, a 61-year-old senior assistant state attorney in Illinois, was fired from his job and was replaced by a younger attorney in her thirties.  Mr. Levin sued his state employer for, among other things, violations of the ADEA and violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  As the case progressed, his claim under the ADEA was dismissed, but his age discrimination claim under the U.S. Constitution was permitted to be presented to the trier of fact.  Ultimately, the case reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, with the state employer contending that Mr. Levin’s claim under the ADEA barred his constitutional claim, since the procedures for bringing claims under those respective legal authorities are substantially different (including pre-suit filing requirements and the burdens of proof placed on the claimant).  Breaking ranks with other federal appellate courts, the Seventh Circuit rejected the state employer’s argument and ruled that the ADEA did not displace Mr. Levin’s age discrimination claim under the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court will now be the final arbiter of this appellate court split.  The distinct question presented before the Court is:  “whether state and local government employees may bypass the ‘comprehensive remedial scheme’ under the ADEA by filing an age discrimination claim under the Equal Protection Clause, through a Section 1983 lawsuit.”  In prior non-ADEA cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Congress does displace a constitutional claim when it enacts a “comprehensive remedial scheme,” but it has not yet applied that principal to claims brought under the ADEA.  As such, public employers will be watching closely to determine whether or not the U.S. Supreme Court allows government workers to bypass the remedial scheme set forth in the ADEA and instead proceed directly to court on constitutional claims against their state employers.

We will keep you posted as this case progresses.

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