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Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia

Forced Retirement And Public-safety Officers

Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) to combat what is sometimes caused "ageism." Among the law's provisions is a prohibition against age discrimination with regard to employees between the ages of 40 and 70 years old. Only if age can be demonstrated to be a "bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business" is it permissible to fire someone on the basis of their age.

An ordinance in the Baltimore city code required firefighters to retire at the age of 55, and in the mid-1980s six Baltimore firefighters brought an age discrimination suit against the city. The case went before the Supreme Court, which on 17 June 1985 struck down the Baltimore ordinance. According to Justice Thurgood Marshall, who delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court, the legislative history of the ADEA, which was amended in 1974 and 1977, suggests that Congress did not consider 55 a bona fide occupational limit for public-safety officers; rather, the designation may have been made "arbitrarily" or "for myriad political purposes."

According to an article in Criminal Justice Newsletter published soon after the ruling, however, legislators such as Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) and others continued to favor different retirement standards for public-safety officers than for other Americans: "I am a strong proponent of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act," Bradley said. "But older Americans have as much reason as anyone to insure that those who must perform emergency services are physically able to do so."

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