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U.S. Supreme Court

Johnson v. Mayor of Baltimore, 472 U.S. 353 (1985)

Johnson v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore

No. 84-518

Argued April 22, 1985

Decided June 17, 1985*

472 U.S. 353


The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of age against employees who are between the ages of 40 and 70 by, inter alia, discharging them or requiring them to retire involuntarily, except when age is shown to be "a bona fide occupational qualification [BFOQ] reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business." When the ADEA was amended in 1974 and 1978 to extend it to federal employees and to eliminate substantially all federal age limits on employment, the provision of the federal civil service statute, 5 U.S.C. § 8335(b), which requires most federal firefighters to retire at age 55, was left untouched. Petitioners, firefighters employed by the city of Baltimore, brought an action in Federal District Court, challenging, on the ground that they violated the ADEA, the city's code provisions that establish for firefighters a mandatory retirement age lower than 70. The city defended on the ground that age is a BFOQ for the position of firefighters. After a trial, the District Court, holding that the city had failed to produce sufficient evidence to make out this defense, invalidated the challenged provisions. The Court of Appeals reversed. Relying on EEOC v. Wyoming, 460 U. S. 226, in which this Court observed that the ADEA tests a State's discretion to impose a mandatory retirement age "against a reasonable federal standard," the Court of Appeals held that 5 U.S.C. § 8335(b) furnished such a standard, that, since Congress had selected age 55 as the retirement age for most federal firefighters, as a matter of law the same age constitutes a BFOQ for all state and local firefighters as well, and that therefore the city was not required to make any factual showing as to the need for the mandatory retirement age.

Held: Title 5 U.S.C. § 8335(b) does not, as a matter of law, establish that age 55 is a BFOQ for nonfederal firefighters within the meaning of the ADEA. Pp. 472 U. S. 360-371.

Page 472 U. S. 354

(a) The "reasonable federal standard" to which this Court referred in EEOC v. Wyoming, supra, is the standard supplied by the ADEA itself, i.e., whether the age limit is a BFOQ. Nothing in the ADEA or the decision in EEOC v. Wyoming warrants the conclusion that a federal rule, not found in the ADEA, and by its terms applicable only to federal employees, necessarily authorizes a state or local government to maintain a mandatory retirement age as a matter of law. The mere fact that some federal firefighters are required to cease work at age 55 does not provide an absolute defense to an ADEA action challenging state and local age limits for firefighters. Pp. 472 U. S. 360-362.

(b) Neither the language nor the legislative history of the civil service provision indicates that the retirement age for federal firefighters is based on a congressional determination that age 55 is a BFOQ for firefighters within the meaning of the ADEA. Instead, the provision represents nothing more than a congressional decision that federal firefighters must retire, as a general matter, at age 55. The history of § 8335(b) makes clear that the decision to retire certain federal employees, including firefighters, at an early age was not based on actual occupational qualifications for the covered employment, but rather, in significant part, on an attempt to maintain the image of a youthful workforce by making early retirement attractive and financially rewarding. Accordingly, it would be error for a court, faced with a challenge under the ADEA to an age limit for nonfederal firefighters, to give any weight to § 8335(b). Pp. 472 U. S. 362-370.

731 F.2d 209, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 472 U. S. 355

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