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EEOC Informal Discussion Letter

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members wrote the following informal discussion letter in response to an inquiry from a member of the public. This letter is intended to provide an informal discussion of the noted issue and does not constitute an official opinion of the Commission.

ADEA - Disparate Treatment

January 8, 2000


This is in response to your letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) expressing concerns about age discrimination against law enforcement officers. The Chairwoman of the Commission has asked me to respond to your inquiry.

As you may be aware, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C.

§ 621 et seq., generally prohibits discrimination in employment based upon age for those who are 40 and over. Based on an express exemption in the ADEA, however, state and local governments may use age limitations for hiring and discharging law enforcement officers and firefighters. Thus, states and localities are authorized to set maximum hiring ages, as well as mandatory retirement ages, as long as they do so consistently with the specific terms of the statute. See 29 U.S.C. § 623(j). Similar provisions in other statutes permit the federal government to set minimum and maximum age limits for law enforcement officers or firefighters, and to require the mandatory retirement of individuals who hold such positions. See 5 U.S.C. §§ 3307(d), 8335(b). For your information, I have attached copies of each of these laws.

Note that under the ADEA, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is to develop guidelines for the administration and use of physical and mental fitness tests that can measure the ability of law enforcement officers and firefighters to perform their jobs. Once these guidelines have been issued, state and local government employers will be required to give individuals the opportunity to pass annual fitness-for-duty tests before requiring them to retire. As a result, state and local law enforcement officers and firefighters will have the chance to demonstrate that they can perform the functions of their jobs regardless of age.

I hope that the above information is helpful to you.


Jocelyn Samuels
Senior Attorney Advisor


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