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Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia

Impact

In the United States, as throughout the world, older people have often been victims of age discrimination. They experience problems with being hired for work and are often discharged because employers believe that advancing age objectively reduces their ability to work effectively. Such treatment not only affects the financial status of older people, but also their health. That is why Congress enacted the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in 1967. Nevertheless, under certain circumscribed instances, the U.S. Supreme Court held that age discrimination is sometimes justified because certain professions require excellent physical fitness.

In Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, the U.S. Supreme Court found that age discrimination in the employment of "over-aged" police officers should be subject to less judicial scrutiny than discrimination by sex or race. The Court also affirmed that the practice of using a "rational basis test" (competence determined by fixed criteria) rather than a strict-scrutiny test in cases where a state's legislation sometimes restricted the availability of employment opportunities by age requirements. The majority opinion reasoned that people grouped by age were not like suspect classes who were discriminated because they were "saddled" with disabilities, unequally treated with a specific purpose, or politically powerless. Thus, according to the Court, some over-aged classes of people did not necessarily constitute a discrete and insular group of people whose constitutional rights could be violated. They were simply a fluid group of which everyone would become a member one day. Therefore, if a position (such as that of police officer) required demanding physical activity from an employee, and if government could rationalize a discrete issue wherein there existed an overriding issue regarding public safety (as in this case), age discrimination was held to be justified.

Additional topics

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