Age and Wage Issues Among Many Resolved On Election Day

As votes in yesterday’s elections continue to be tallied, there were several developments of interest to employers and to labor and employment practitioners alike.

Age: The ADEA Applies To Public Sector Employers Of All Sizes

First, yesterday morning, the Supreme Court announced its first decision of the 2018-19 term.  In a unanimous (8-0) ruling, the Court held in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits age discrimination by State and local government employers of all sizes.

The issue before the Court was a straightforward matter of statutory interpretation.  Since amending the law in 1974, Congress has defined ADEA covered “employers” as follows:

“The term ‘employer’ means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees . . . . The term also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State . . . .”

29 U.S.C. § 630(b) (emphasis added).  (By contrast, when amending Title VII two years before the 1974 ADEA amendment, Congress chose to include state and local governments within the definition of “person,” all of whom had to have at least 15 employees to be covered employers under that law.)

Basically, the question facing the Court was: does “also means” (1) add new categories of covered employers; or (2) only clarify who is a “person”?

The Court chose the first of these options for several reasons.  First, the Court reasoned that the ordinary meaning of “also means” is to add to something, rather than to limit or clarify what came before it.  Indeed, the Court itself had indirectly chosen that interpretation in earlier precedent.  Plus, the term “also means” is used elsewhere in federal law to supplement – not clarify – earlier definitions.  And, the Court explained, this additive interpretation retains the distinction between the ADEA and Title VII that earlier cases have emphasized.

Wage: Arkansas and Missouri Voters Approve Minimum Wage Increases

Meanwhile, several labor and employment issues were directly on the ballot through various state voter initiatives and referenda.

Both Arkansas and Missouri approved increases to their state minimum wage.  Arkansas voters voted to increase that state’s minimum wage over time from $8.50 per hour to $11.00 per hour by 2021, as follows:

  • $9.25 per hour beginning on January 1, 2019;
  • $10.00 per hour in 2020; and
  • $11.00 per hour in 2021.

Likewise, in Missouri, voters approved incremental raises to that state’s minimum wage.  Missouri minimum wage will gradually increase from $7.25 per hour to $12.00 per hour by 2023 as follows:

  • $8.60 per hour beginning on January 1, 2019;
  • $9.45 per hour in 2020;
  • $10.30 per hour in 2021;
  • $11.15 per hour in 2022; and
  • $12.00 per hour in 2023.

That state’s wage rate will then be indexed to the federal Consumer Price Index.

Other Notable Labor and Employment Initiatives

In other news:

  • Florida voters amendment the state Constitution to ban the use of vaping devices in enclosed indoor workplaces. (See pages 27-30 of the link.)
  • Massachusetts approved Question 3, upholding its law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in public businesses or other public accommodations.
  • Missouri also approved the use of medical marijuana, while expressly prohibiting individuals from “bring[ing] a claim against any employer, former employer, or prospective employer for wrongful discharge, discrimination, or any similar cause of action or remedy” based on the individual working or attempting to work while under the influence of medical marijuana.
  • Utah similarly approved medical marijuana use, though its law does not appear to clarify how lawful medical marijuana use intersects with the employment relationship.
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