Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents

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Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 13, 1999
Decided January 11, 2000
Full case name J. Daniel Kimel, Jr. et al. v. Florida Board of Regents et al.
Citations 528 U.S. 62 (more)
120 S.Ct. 631, 81 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 970, 187 A.L.R. Fed. 543, 76 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 46,190, 145 L.Ed.2d 522, 68 USLW 4016, 140 Ed. Law Rep. 825, 23 Employee Benefits Cas. 2945, 00 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 229, 2000 Daily Journal D.A.R. 293, 2000 CJ C.A.R. 190, 13 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 25
Congress's enforcement powers under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution do not extend to the abrogation of state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment where the discrimination complained of is rationally based on age. Therefore, private litigants cannot obtain money damages from the states for violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority O'Connor, joined by Rehnquist, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas (Parts I, II, and IV); Rehnquist, Stevens, Scalia, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer (Part III)
Concur/dissent Stevens, joined by Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer
Concur/dissent Thomas, joined by Kennedy
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. XI, XIV

Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents, 528 U.S. 62 (2000) was a United States Supreme Court case that determined that the Congress's enforcement powers under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution did not extend to the abrogation of state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment where the discrimination complained of was rationally based on age.

Facts and result

Employees of Florida State University and Florida International University, including J. Daniel Kimel, Jr., sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (the ADEA) because failure to adjust pay had a disparate impact on older employees. Wellington Dickson sued his employer, the Florida Department of Corrections, for not promoting him because of his age. Roderick MacPherson and Marvin Narz, who were associate professors at the University of Montevallo in Alabama, sued under the ADEA law alleging an evaluation system that discriminated against the elderly. The cases of Kimel, Dickson, MacPherson and Narz were consolidated on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, and remained consolidated when the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Kimel invalidated the ADEA insofar as it allowed plaintiffs to sue states for money damages.[1]

Legal background

Kimel concerned the ability of Congress to override the states' "sovereign immunity" using its power under the Fourteenth Amendment. Sovereign immunity is a principle that originally comes from English law and referred to the immunity of the English monarch from suit. Sovereign immunity, according to the Supreme Court in Hans v. Louisiana (1890), normally prevents states from being sued by its own citizens in federal court. This bar against suit, the Court said, came from the Eleventh Amendment, even though the express terms of that amendment provide only that citizens of one state cannot sue another state.

In Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer (1976), however, the Court made an exception to that usual rule. Fitzpatrick held that Congress could use its power under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment — which allows Congress to enforce the substantive terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, including the Equal Protection Clause, by positive legislation — to override state sovereign immunity. But in 1997, in City of Boerne v. Flores, the Court limited congressional power to override state sovereign immunity using the Fourteenth Amendment, and for the first time required "congruence and proportionality" between the constitutional wrong and the congressionally enacted remedy to protect constitutional rights.[2] Boerne held that it was the Court, and only the Court, that could determine what constituted a constitutional wrong, and that Congress could not permissibly increase the level of constitutional protection beyond that which the Court had recognized.[3] Specifically, Boerne interpreted the scope of section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states, "The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."

The Court in Kimel based its decision in large part on Boerne. The importance of Kimel was the strict limits it placed on the ability of Congress to abrogate the states' sovereign immunity under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Justice O'Connor, writing for the majority, stated that Congress in enacting the ADEA had properly declared its intent to subject states to suits for money damages by private individuals. The Court then noted that under the Court's equal protection jurisprudence, "age is not a suspect classification," and laws which classify on the basis of age need only pass the Court's "rational basis review" test, as opposed to legal classifications based on race or gender, where a "history of purposeful unequal treatment" leads the Court to apply strict scrutiny to such laws. The Court then contrasted rational basis review with the ADEA, which prohibits all employment discrimination on the basis of age, except where age is a "bona fide occupational qualification."[4] The ADEA, the Court concluded, "prohibits substantially more state employment decisions and practices than would likely be held unconstitutional under the applicable equal protection, rational basis standard." Therefore, the ADEA's remedy failed the "congruence and proportionality" test required by Boerne and so was not "a valid exercise of constitutional authority" under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In explaining the application of rational basis review to classifications based on age, the majority stated:

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Age classifications, unlike governmental conduct based on race or gender, cannot be characterized as "so seldom relevant to the achievement of any legitimate state interest that laws grounded in such considerations are deemed to reflect prejudice and antipathy." ...

States may discriminate on the basis of age without offending the Fourteenth Amendment if the age classification in question is rationally related to a legitimate state interest. The rationality commanded by the Equal Protection Clause does not require States to match age distinctions and the legitimate interests they serve with razorlike precision. ...

Under the Fourteenth Amendment, a State may rely on age as a proxy for other qualities, abilities, or characteristics that are relevant to the State’s legitimate interests. The Constitution does not preclude reliance on such generalizations. That age proves to be an inaccurate proxy in any individual case is irrelevant. [W]here rationality is the test, a State does not violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the classifications made by its laws are imperfect. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)

Justice Stevens's dissenting opinion said, "There is not a word in the text of the Constitution supporting the Court’s conclusion that the judge-made doctrine of sovereign immunity limits Congress’ power to authorize private parties, as well as federal agencies, to enforce federal law against the States." Justice Stevens referred to the doctrine of sovereign immunity as expanded by Seminole Tribe v. Florida and Alden v. Maine as "judicial activism."

See also


  1. Although the Kimel decision bars state employees from suing states for money damages for age discrimination, it is still possible to sue under Ex parte Young (1908) for prospective injunctive relief. See State Police for Automatic Retirement Ass'n v. DiFava, 317 F.3d 6, 12 (1st Cir. 2003); see also Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 374 n.9 (2001). Ex parte Young allows state officials to be sued for injunctive relief when violating federal law.
  2. 521 U.S. 507, 520 (1997).
  3. See 521 U.S. at 528-29.
  4. 29 U.S.C. § 623(f)(1).

External links