Court to hear faculty age-discrimination suit

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will decide whether faculty members at public universities can sue in federal court under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The court announced that Kimel vs. State of Florida Board of Regents will appear on its March or April calendar. Last year, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled state agencies cannot be sued for violation of the ADEA, which prohibits employers from discriminating against older workers.

The Atlanta appeals court said state agencies have immunity from such suits under the 11th Amendment. Eight other circuit courts reached the opposite conclusion in separate cases, according to a press release from the National Education Association. The NEA is funding the suit on behalf of 35 faculty members from two Florida state universities.

“We think that the 11th circuit’s decision is wrong and we are pleased that the Supreme Court has granted our request for review,” NEA General Counsel Robert H. Chanin said in a statement. “Higher education faculty should be able to look to the federal courts for protection against invidious age discrimination.”

The Kimel case is based on a Florida law that allows older professors to receive salaries comparable to those paid recently hired faculty members. Two state schools did not adhere to the new law, which prompted the faculty members’ suit.

Mark Simpson, assistant general counsel for the NEA, said the Supreme Court should rule whether Congress has the power to extend the 11th Amendment to public colleges and universities.

“If the court rules against us, no higher education faculty in the United States will be covered by the ADEA,” Simpson said.

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