Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents
Annotate this Case
528 U.S. 62 (2000)
OCTOBER TERM, 1999
KIMEL ET AL. v. FLORIDA BOARD OF REGENTS ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
No. 98-791. Argued October 13, 1999-Decided January 11,2000*
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA or Act), as amended, makes it unlawful for an employer, including a State, "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual ... because of such individual's age." 29 U. S. C. § 623(a)(I). Petitioners, three sets of plaintiffs, filed suit under the ADEA against respondents, their state employers. Petitioners' suits sought money damages for respondents' alleged discrimination on the basis of age. Respondents in all three cases moved to dismiss the suits on the basis of the Eleventh Amendment. The District Court in one case granted the motion to dismiss, while in each of the remaining cases the District Court denied the motion. All three decisions were appealed and consolidated before the Eleventh Circuit. Petitioner United States intervened on appeal to defend the constitutionality of the ADEA's abrogation of the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity. In a divided panel opinion, the Eleventh Circuit held that the ADEA does not abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity.
Held: Although the ADEA does contain a clear statement of Congress' intent to abrogate the States' immunity, that abrogation exceeded Congress' authority under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 72-92.
(a) The ADEA satisfies the simple but stringent test this Court uses to determine whether a federal statute properly subjects States to suits by individuals: Congress made its intention to abrogate the States' immunity unmistakably clear in the language of the statute. Dellmuth v. Muth, 491 U. S. 223, 228. The ADEA states that its provisions "shall be enforced in accordance with the powers, remedies, and procedures provided in sections 211(b), 216 (except for subsection (a) thereof), and 217 of this title, and subsection (c) of this section." 29 U. S. C. § 626(b). Section 216(b), in turn, authorizes employees to maintain actions for backpay "against any employer (including a public agency) in any Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction .... " Section 203(x) defines "public agency" to include "the government of a State or political
*Together with No. 98-796, United States v. Florida Board of Regents et al., also on certiorari to the same court.
subdivision thereof," and "any agency of ... a State, or a political subdivision of a State." The text of § 626(b) forecloses respondents' claim that the existence of an enforcement provision in the ADEA itself renders Congress' intent to incorporate § 216(b)'s clear statement of abrogation ambiguous. Congress' use of the phrase "court of competent jurisdiction" in § 216(b) also does not render its intent to abrogate less than clear. Finally, because the clear statement inquiry focuses on what Congress did enact, not when it did so, the Court will not infer ambiguity from the sequence in which a clear textual statement is added to a statute. Pp. 73-78.
(b) This Court held in EEOC v. Wyoming, 460 U. S. 226, 243, that the ADEA constitutes a valid exercise of Congress' Article I Commerce Clause power. Congress' powers under Article I, however, do not include the power to subject States to suit at the hands of private individuals. Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U. S. 44, 72-73. Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment does grant Congress the authority to abrogate the States' sovereign immunity. Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427
(c) Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment is an affirmative grant of power to Congress. City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U. S. 507, 517. That power includes the authority both to remedy and to deter the violation of rights guaranteed thereunder by prohibiting a somewhat broader swath of conduct, including that which is not itself forbidden by the Amendment's text. Congress cannot, however, decree the substance of the Fourteenth Amendment's restrictions on the States. Id., at 519. The ultimate interpretation and determination of the Amendment's substantive meaning remains the province of the Judicial Branch. This Court has held that for remedial legislation to be appropriate under § 5, "[t]here must be a congruence and proportionality between the injury to be prevented or remedied and the means adopted to that end." Id., at 520. Pp. 80-82.
(d) The ADEA is not "appropriate legislation" under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The ADEA's purported abrogation of the States' sovereign immunity is accordingly invalid. pp. 82-91.
(1) The substantive requirements the ADEA imposes on state and local governments are disproportionate to any unconstitutional conduct that conceivably could be targeted by the Act. Age is not a suspect classification under the Equal Protection Clause. See, e. g., Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U. S. 452, 470. States therefore may discriminate on the basis of age without offending the Fourteenth Amendment if the age classification in question is rationally related to a legitimate state interest. The rationality commanded by the Equal Protection Clause does not require States to match age distinctions and the legitimate
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