U.S. Supreme Court to consider age discrimination case

March 19, 2013

The Supreme Court has agreed to consider a case about whether state workers alleging age discrimination can sue under federal civil rights law.

The case concerns Harvey Levin, a lawyer who worked for the Illinois attorney general’s office who sued the office for sex and age discrimination after he was fired in 2006 in his early 60s.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, affirming a trial court decision, ruled that Levin can sue under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, using a Reconstruction-era law known as section 1983 that allows state workers to bring claims against their employers.

Four other appellate courts that tackled similar cases ruled that state-sector employees must bring their age discrimination cases only under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and can’t sue under section 1983. Section 1983 gives plaintiffs certain remedies that the Age Discrimination in Employment law does not, such as the ability to sue state workers as individuals, and the possibility of compensatory damages.

The Supreme Court included the case on Monday in the list of cases it would hear next term. No date has been set for arguments.

“It’s sort of a narrow case because it only applies to state workers,” said Marcia McCormick, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law who specializes in labor and employment law. “But it’s really important for those workers because in recent years the Supreme Court limited the damages they can seek.”

A decision agreeing with the 7th Circuit would “put age discrimination claimants on a more even playing field with employees suing for sex and race discrimination,” said Paul W. Mollica, an attorney at Outten & Golden in Chicago who represents employees in litigation.

Those plaintiffs, Mollica said, can sue under multiple laws and are not limited to one course of action.

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The case is Lisa Madigan et al v. Harvey Levin, No. 12-872, U.S. Supreme Court.