Discrimination Against Government Employees


Government employees do not enjoy the same protections against discrimination as private employees. This is particularly true in the area of age discrimination.

The Supreme Court has ruled [in Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents, 528 US 62, (2000)] that state employees may not sue for money damages under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The only way for state employees to recover damages under the ADEA is for the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) to bring an action against the state government on their behalf. Otherwise, to recover money damages, state employees are protected only by state age-discrimination laws. In addition, unlike for other types of employment discrimination, state and local workers cannot rely on the Department of Justice to initiate investigations and prosecute enforcement of age-discrimination violations.

Federal workers have always faced a confusing system for lodging complaints about age discrimination and other forms of bias affecting older workers. The EEOC has made some improvements. But much more needs to be done to make it easier for federal employees to understand and participate in the complaint process. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires affirmative action and nondiscrimination in employment by federal agencies in the executive branch, including through reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.



State employees

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) must vigorously enforce antidiscrimination laws on behalf of state employees.

Congress should enact legislation to correct the gap in enforcement of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) that currently prevents older state employees from getting monetary relief from age discrimination.

States should permit public employees to sue the states under the ADEA and Americans with Disabilities Act. Doing so ensures that state employees are afforded the same protections as federal and private-sector older adult workers and workers with disabilities.

The EEOC should increase the transparency and efficiency of their procedures for investigating complaints from private-sector workers as well as state and local government workers.

Congress should amend the ADEA with respect to Department of Justice (DOJ) involvement in employment discrimination cases. When cases are referred by the EEOC, the DOJ should have the authority and funding to initiate investigations and prosecute enforcement actions against state and local government employers where it has reason to believe that a pattern or practice of employment discrimination exists in violation of the ADEA.