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Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia

Rationality Of Mandatory Retirement

The state of Massachusetts' statute required retirement of a uniformed state police officer upon attaining the age of 50. Adhering to this rule, the Massachusetts Board of Retirement retired Robert Murgia, an officer in the uniformed branch of the Massachusetts State Police. Believing he was in excellent health and deprived from his right to work, Murgia filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts alleging that he was denied equal protection under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Fourteenth Amendment. His complaint was dismissed, however, because a federal district judge believed that the complaint did not allege a substantial constitutional question. Murgia appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit but the appellate court sent the case back to the lower court with directions to convene a three-judge panel for review of the case. The three-judge court convened and, after looking at a record consisting of allegations and testimonies submitted by the parties, ruled that the provision of the Massachusetts statute was unconstitutional because it lacked rational basis in furthering any substantial state interest.

In their review of the case, the court found that service in the uniformed branch of the Massachusetts State Police was arduous and that high versatility was required from officers. The police officers had been required to pass an extensive physical examination every two years until age 40, and after that a more rigorous annual examination was required until an officer reached the age of 50. Murgia's record included the testimony of three physicians concerning the physiological and psychological demands of the uniformed police profession, the relationship between aging and the ability to work under stress, and aging and the ability to safely perform police functions.

Looking at all of these arguments the district court found that it was not necessary to apply a strict-scrutiny test, because the age classification established by the Massachusetts statutory scheme did not interfere with the exercise of a fundamental right nor did it operate against a suspect class (senior police officers). The court reasoned that a test of rationality should be applied; the test that evaluated constitutionality of classifications by examining whether they rationally furthered an identified state interest. In this case, the state interest was the protection of the public by assuring the physical preparedness of the state's uniformed police. Ultimately, the court ruled that compulsory retirement at age 50 was irrational (and therefore unconstitutional), because police officers' fitness to perform uniformed police duties was tested individually by annual examination and it was a fact that an officer, in this case Murgia, could pass those examinations after having attained the age of 50.

Dissatisfied with this decision, the Massachusetts Board of Retirement appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, and, in a per curiam opinion (an opinion given jointly by all the justices trying a case, with no signatory author), the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia - Significance, Rationality Of Mandatory Retirement, Not The Best Means . . . But Rational Means, Impact