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Seventh Circuit Holds that ADEA is Not an Exclusive Remedy for Public Employees

Prior to the Seventh Circuit’s recent decision in Levin v. Madigan, individuals bringing a claim based on age discrimination were only able to seek a remedy under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). However, the Seventh Circuit has expanded the causes of action available to a plaintiff claiming age discrimination by allowing public employee to also seek claims pursuant to §1983.

Under a §1983 claim, parties are permitted to bring suits to enforce individual rights under federal statutes and the Constitution against state and local governments. Levin, a public employee, brought a lawsuit against the state of Illinois under both the ADEA claim and §1983. Although the defendants argued that the state was entitled to qualified immunity against the §1983 claim because ADEA was an exclusive remedy for age discrimination claims, the Seventh Circuit disagreed. Looking to both the text and the legislative history of ADEA, the Court found that ADEA did not intend to provide a remedy for violations of federal constitutional rights. Moreover, the Court did not find any express language that indicated Congress intended to foreclose a party’s relief under §1983 for constitutional violations through the ADEA’s statutory scheme for age discrimination. Therefore, where Levin alleged both an age discrimination claim based on ADEA and an Equal Protection claim via the Fourteenth Amendment under §1983, he was entitled to pursue both claims simultaneously.

Given the high standards that a party must prove in order to be successful under ADEA (a plaintiff must prove that age was the motivating factor in an adverse employment action), the Seventh Circuit’s decision is welcome news, providing an additional avenue for relief for public employees.