The coming term of the U.S. Supreme Court, possibly with a new justice named Brett Kavanaugh seated, will open Oct. 1 with a review of a case from Arizona involving two firefighters alleging they were terminated because of age.

supreme-court-to-hear-adea-caseIn a brief order issued yesterday, the court placed the case of John Guido and Dennis Rankin and their lawsuit against the Mount Lemmon Fire District on the day-one agenda.

The two were let go in a cost-cutting move when the district faced financial difficulties in 2009. Both had joined the department in 2000 and had risen to the rank of fire captain.  Guido was 45 and Rankin 54 when the district parted company with them, replacing them with two younger firemen, one only 28 with just six years experience.

Guido and Rankin were told they were being terminated because they had not participated in recent years in voluntary shifts fighting wildland fires. The pair immediately sued.

The first court ruled that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) didn’t apply to the Mount Lemmon Fire District because it had fewer than 20 employees, the threshold at which the law kicks in. A federal appeals court, however, reversed that decision, saying the ADEA specifies the 20-employee threshold only for private companies, with no threshold specified for public entities.

Rushing to the aid of Mount Lemmon is a plethora of public agencies throughout the nation that want the reversal reversed — permanently.

Tucson attorney Don Awerkamp, representing the two, will counter the briefs filed by these public entities, including associations like the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“It is important not to lose sight of what it [the district] actually seeks here — a free pass under federal law to discriminate on the basis of age,” Awerkamp said. “No matter how blatant or unjustified its reliance on age, the fire district seeks immunity for inflicting on individual workers the economic and psychological injury accompanying the loss of opportunity to engage in productive and satisfying occupations.”