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Runkel: Supreme Court Jumping the Gun on Section 1983 ADEA Case?

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secunda-paulAt RossRunkel.com today:

SCOTUS: Can public sector employees skip the ADEA and sue directly under the constitution?

Or should this case even be before the Supreme Court?

Madigan v. Levin [Briefs at SCOTUSblog] is set for argument [this Monday] October 7.

‘Harvey Levin, a state employee, claimed he was fired because of his age. He sued his boss under the ADEA and the constitution. The boss claimed qualified immunity.

The trial court threw out the ADEA claim, kept the constitutional claim, and decided the boss did not have immunity.

The boss brought an interlocutory (pre-trial) appeal to the 7th Circuit, which decided (1) no immunity and (2) Levin can go ahead with his constitutional claim.

Primary issue: Whether a public sector employee can bring an age bias claim directly under the Constitution without following ADEA procedures. That’s the issue everyone is talking about. For a good explanation, see Lyle Denniston’s discussion at SCOTUSblog.

Wait, wait, one more issue: Notice that the appeal to the 7th Circuit was interlocutory. Unusual. Allowed here because of the immunity issue. But the 7th Circuit also went forward with the ADEA-vs-constitution issue. I’d like to see the Court kick this case back to the 7th Circuit, telling them they jumped the gun. Wait for a trial to take place, and then appeal from a final judgment. Am I trying to be too orderly here?

FWIW, I think the Court should kick back the case for a trial before deciding the case on appeal.  I am very much a proceduralist on such matters.

As far as whether a public employee should be able to bring a constitutional claim based on age discrimination in addition to a claim under the ADEA, I think they should be able to do so. My primary thinking is that you can get individual liability in a Section 1983 case, whereas you cannot under the ADEA.  Also, in light of Grosschanging the causation standard to “but for” in ADEA cases, there might be an easier cauasation standard under Section 1983.  In any event, this analysis is supported by a similar conclusion come to by the Court in the Title IX realm in the Barnstable case a few years ago.

The one difference between this case and Barnstable is that you do not have to exhaust administrative remedies in Title IX cases like you do under the ADEA, so that may be a distinction which might make this case come out differently.  Court might place importance on the gatekeeping function the EEOC plays in ADEA cases and this may be seen as an end-around for some public employees (though Madigan brought both claims so must have exhausted administrative remedies).

This article was originally printed on Workplace Prof Blog on October 3, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Paul Secunda is an associate professor of  law at Marquette University Law School.  Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He co-authored the treatise Understanding Employment Law and the case book Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law.  Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media.  He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country.


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