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Snyder v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 23, 2017

Anthony Snyder, Plaintiff,
City of Chicago Defendant.


          Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge

         In this action, plaintiff Anthony Snyder, a paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department (“CFD”), complains that the City of Chicago violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623 (“ADEA”) when it failed to offer him the opportunity for “cross-over training” to become a firefighter/paramedic based on his age. Before me is the City's motion for summary judgment, which I grant for the reasons that follow.


         On or around March 7, 2006, the City issued a “Firefighter/EMT Examination Announcement” stating that a written examination would be administered on May 25 and 26, 2006, as “the first step in the Chicago Firefighter/EMT examination process.” Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt., Exh. 8 (the “2006 Exam Announcement”). The 2006 Exam Announcement included the statement, “NOTE: Pursuant to the Municipal Code of Chicago 2-152-410, an applicant above the age of 38 may not be appointed.” The referenced section of the Municipal Code provides:

No person above the age of 38 may receive initial appointment as a probationary career service firefighter or firefighter/EMT with the fire department and no person above the age of 40 may receive initial appointment as a probationary career service police officer with the police department. Provided, however, that these age restrictions shall not apply to initial appointment as a probationary career service police officer or firefighter or firefighter/EMT from employment lists in existence on the date of passage of this ordinance.

M.C.C. § 2-152-410(e).[1]

         Plaintiff was hired as a paramedic in CFD's Division of Emergency Services on April 3, 2006, when he was thirty-two years old. Shortly thereafter, he took and passed the written examination announced in the 2006 Exam Announcement and was placed on the firefighter “eligibility list” for training at the fire academy. Placement order on the eligibility list is assigned randomly based on the candidates' social security numbers. Aff. of Charles Stewart, III, Def.'s L.R. 56.1(A)(3) Stmt., Exh. C at ¶ 11. In addition, pursuant to the parties' Collective Bargaining Agreement, ten percent of each firefighter candidate class is reserved for “cross-overs, ” i.e., individuals who, like plaintiff, are paramedics already employed by the City, and who are selected for firefighter training based on seniority. Id.

         Plaintiff's randomly assigned number on the eligibility list was 7736, which he acknowledges would have put him “out of the running” for firefighter training were it not for his placement on the cross-over eligibility list. Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt., Exh. 9; Opp. at 2-3. Plaintiff further acknowledges that the first firefighter training class in which he would have been eligible to participate based on his position on the cross-over eligibility list began on March 14, 2014. Def.'s L.R. 56.1(a)(3) Stmt., ¶ 25; Stewart Aff., ¶ 12. By that time, however, plaintiff was forty years old-two years over the age limit established in § 2-152-410(e). Accordingly, the City did not invite him to participate in firefighter training.

         Plaintiff filed timely a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission based on the City's failure to afford him the opportunity to join the training class that began on March 14, 2014.[2] On September 30, 2014, the IDHR dismissed the charge for lack of substantial evidence. Pl.'s L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. Exh. 13. This lawsuit followed.


         The ADEA generally protects workers forty and over from age-based discrimination in employment. Its protection of older workers is not limitless, however. When the statute was enacted in 1967, it did not apply to state and local government employees. Minch v. City of Chicago, 363 F.3d 615, 618 (7th Cir. 2004). Indeed, as the Seventh Circuit explained in Minch, “[h]istorically, Chicago, like many other state and local governments, has placed age limits on the employment of its police and firefighting personnel.” Id. After Congress amended the ADEA in 1974 to bring state and local government employees within its scope, these age limits became vulnerable to challenge, prompting Chicago's City Council to modify them to align with the statute. Id.

         In response to concerns raised by state and local governments, however, Congress again amended the ADEA to exempt state and local rules establishing hiring and retirement age limits for police officers and firefighters. Id. at 618-19. Since 1996, the ADEA has expressly authorized such limits pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 623(j). That section provides that it is not unlawful for a state or its political subdivisions “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual because of such individual's age if such action is taken...pursuant to a bona fide hiring or retirement plan that is not a subterfuge to evade the purposes of this chapter.” 29 U.S.C. § 6230(j)(2).[3]

         In 2000, the Chicago City Council exercised its authority under the exemption and enacted Municipal Code § 2-152-410.

         Minch, 363 F.3d at 617. The Seventh Circuit examined the ordinance in Minch and considered under what circumstances mandatory age limits for public safety personnel might constitute “a subterfuge to evade the purposes of the ADEA.” 363 F.3d at 617. It concluded that “[w]hat is necessary to establish subterfuge is proof that the employer is using the exemption as a way to evade another substantive provision of the act.” Id. at 629. For example, the court explained, a plaintiff would have a valid subterfuge claim if he or she could show that a state or city government imposed age limits on public safety personnel “in order to retaliate against one or more employees for protesting practices made illegal by the ADEA, ” or could show that a local government “reduc[ed] the wages of all workers while substantially increasing the benefits provided to younger workers” as a means of effectuating wage discrimination against older workers. Id. at 630. But where age maximums are used precisely to establish a cap on the age at which police officers or ...

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