Massachusetts Bd. of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307 (1976)
It is constitutional to require police officers to retire at age 50.
Retirement at 50 was mandatory for uniformed state police officers in Massachusetts. Murgia, who was automatically retired under the law when he turned 50, argued that it violated the Equal Protection Clause, and the lower court agreed.Opinions
Only a rational basis standard of review is appropriate because neither a fundamental right nor a suspect classification is involved. Government employment is not a fundamental right, while age is not a suspect classification. Older individuals have not been subject to a long history of deliberately unequal treatment on the basis of their age, compared to groups defined by race or national origin. Elderly people are not an insular or discrete group because everyone eventually may join that group. The statute is valid under rational basis review because the state has a legitimate interest in providing for a physically fit police force. Physical ability declines with age, so there is a rational relationship between the means and the objective.
- Thurgood Marshall (Author)
Heightened scrutiny is appropriate because the right to work is a fundamental right, and here it has been removed from people who can show that they are medically fit to work. People who lose their jobs late in life have greater difficulty finding new employment, and elderly individuals have been subjected to repeated and arbitrary discrimination. While the state does have a compelling purpose, it has not chosen the least restrictive means to achieve that objective. It should be required to test police officers individually to determine their fitness rather than automatically terminating them at a certain age.Case Commentary
Age is not a protected group, so rational basis is the appropriate standard of review for such classifications. In this particular situation, there was not a significant issue at stake, since police officers over 50 are commonly subjected to physical evaluations.
U.S. Supreme CourtMassachusetts Bd. of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307 (1976)
Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia
Argued December 10, 1975
Decided June 25, 1976
427 U.S. 307
A Massachusetts statute making it mandatory for a uniformed state police officer to retire at age 50 held not to deny equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
(a) Rationality, rather than strict scrutiny, is the proper standard for determining whether the statute violates equal protection. Equal protection analysis requires strict scrutiny of a legislative classification only when it impermissibly interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right or operates to the peculiar disadvantage of a suspect class. Here, mandatory retirement at 50 does not implicate any fundamental right of a uniformed state police officer over that age, since a right of governmental employment per se is not fundamental, and the class of such officers over 50 does not constitute a suspect class, since classifications based on age are not considered suspect.
(b) Since physical ability generally declines with age, mandatory retirement at 50 serves to remove from police service those whose fitness for uniformed police work has presumptively diminished with age and is, therefore, rationally related to the State's announced legitimate objective of protecting the public by assuring the physical preparedness of its uniformed police. There is no indication that the statute has the effect of excluding from service so few officers who are in fact unqualified as to render age 50 a criterion wholly unrelated to such objective. While the State perhaps has not chosen the best means to accomplish its purpose, where rationality is the test, a statute "does not violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the classifications made by [it] are imperfect." Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U. S. 471, 397 U. S. 485.