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Kelly v. Wauconda Park District

decided: September 12, 1986.

DUKE B. KELLY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WAUCONDA PARK DISTRICT, A LOCAL GOVERNMENTAL AGENCY OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 85 C 01462-Charles P. Kocaras, Judge.

Author: Wood

Before WOOD, JR., and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges, and ESCHBACH, Senior Circuit Judge.

WOOD, JR., Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff, Duke Kelly, alleges that the Wauconda Park District fired him because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. The district court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss, finding that the Wauconda Park District was not an "employer" as defined by the ADEA. The district court determined that in passing the 1973 amendment to the ADEA adding states and state political subdivisions to the ADEA Congress did not intend to expose government employers to broader coverage than that of private employers. The issue we must decide is an important one: whether a state or state political subdivision, like a private employer, must employ at least "twenty or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year" to qualify as an "employer" under the ADEA. We affirm the decision of the district court.

Duke Kelly was hired by the Wauconda Park District as a maintenance worker in 1972. His job apparently involved groundskeeping duties in the parks. He continued in that position until he was fired on February 15, 1983. He filed suit on February 15, 1985, claiming the defendant fired him because of his age.

The Wauconda Park District is an autonomous local government body located in the Village of Wauconda, a town of 5,700 people. It is governed by an elected Board of Commissioners who serve without pay. A special, local property tax, along with revenues from programs and services provided by the Park District, generates all of the Park District's finances. In 1982, the Park District was comprised of less than 18 acres of land and had a total budget of approximately $120,000.

The Park District has only one full-time, year-round employee, Caroline Kelling, who serves both as Director of Parks and Recreation and as Secretary to the Board of Commissioners. According to Kelling's affidavit, which Kelly does not challenge, thirteen employees worked for the Park District in each calendar year 1981 and 1982. Only two of these employees worked five days in each of twenty or more weeks in 1981 and 1982. Between 1981 and 1985, the Park District has never had more than three employees work five days in each of twenty or more weeks in any calendar year.

We thus face squarely the question whether the twenty-employee minimum for ADEA private-entity employers applies to government employers. If it does, then the Wauconda Park District is not an employer for purposes of the ADEA. If it does not, then Kelly may proceed with his age discrimination claim.

The ADEA definition of "employers," 29 U.S.C. § 630(a) & (b), provides:

(a) The term "person" means one or more individuals, partnerships, associations, labor organizations, corporations, business trusts, legal representatives, or any organized group of persons.

(b) The term "employer" means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year . . . . The term [employer] also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State and any agency or instrumentality of a State or a political subdivision of a State . . . .

The first issue we must decide is whether the definition of employer in section 630 is ambiguous. If the plain language of the statute is clear, we do not look beyond those words to interpret the statute. Ernst & Ernst v. Hochfelder, 425 U.S. 185, 201, 47 L. Ed. 2d 668, 96 S. Ct. 1375 (1976). When the statute's language is ambiguous, we look to the legislative history of the statute to guide our interpretation. United States v. Tex-Tow, Inc., 589 F.2d 1310, 1313 (7th Cir. 1978).

Kelly argues that, by setting state and political subdivisions in a separate sentence, Congress unambiguously indicated that government employers were a separate category of employers not subject to the twenty-employee minimum. Although Kelly's reading of the statute is certainly a fair and reasonable one, we disagree that the language is capable of only that interpretation.*fn1 Indeed, Kelly weakens his argument that the statute is unambiguous by arguing that we should look at "common sense" and congressional intent in deciding that the statute is unambiguous.

More significantly, the Park District enunciates another fair and reasonable interpretation of section 630(b)-that Congress, in amending section 630(b), merely intended to make it clear that states and their political subdivisions are to be included in the definition of "employer," as opposed to being a separate definition of employer. Under this interpretation, government employers would be subject to the same limits as other employers. Because both Kelly and the Park District present reasonable, but conflicting, interpretations of the plain meaning of section 630(b), we ...


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