Citation. 427 U.S. 307, 96 S. Ct. 2562, 49 L. Ed. 2d 520, 1976 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.
Massachusetts law requires state police officers to retire upon turning 50 years old. The Respondent, Murgia (Respondent), argues that this compulsory retirement denies him equal protection under the laws.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Age classifications are only subject to rational basis review.
The Respondent was an officer in the uniformed branch of the Massachusetts State Police. Upon his 50th birthday, the Respondent was required to comply with state law and retire, although a physical examination just four months prior had determined the Respondent to be healthy and capable of all his job functions. The Respondent brought suit in United States District Court, alleging that the compulsory retirement law for Massachusetts State Police denied him of equal protection under the law.
May Massachusetts use an age classification to determine compulsory retirement of its police officers?
Yes. Appeals Court ruling reversed.
The Supreme Court of the United State’s (Supreme Court) majority states that although there has been age discrimination in the past and at present, it does not represent the same type of “purposeful unequal treatment” that has been shown on the basis of race or national origin. As such, the Supreme Court states that rational basis review is the proper level of scrutiny in the current case.
Police work can be physically arduous and the individual officers must be capable of executing their duties fully in the interest of public safety. As individuals grow older, they are no longer as physically able as individuals in their 20’s and 30’s. Although Massachusetts requires routine physicals annually for all officers over the age of 40, there is no requirement that it base retirement solely on the results of these physicals. There is a rational basis for using a set age as a proxy, and hence, the Supreme Court finds no equal protection violation.
Justice Thurgood Marshall (J. Marshall) dissents, arguing that the right to work is a fundamental right and hence proper for a heightened level of scrutiny, as well as that the discrimination against the elderly is more widespread and systemic than the Per Curiam opinion admits.
The central holding of Murgia is that age classifications are subject only to rational basis review. Given the relatively small gain in administrative convenience in the present case (officers approaching 50 are physically examined annually, anyhow), one might argue that the majority is looking at the larger picture of how age classifications are used in this country (for example, driver’s licensing, drinking age, voting rights, statutory rape, etc