Back to the Mar-Apr 2019 issue

All Public Employers Subject to Age Discrimination Law


Age discrimination
Faced with a budget shortfall, Mount Lemmon Fire District, a political subdivision in Arizona, laid off its two oldest full-time firefighters, John Guido and Dennis Rankin. Guido and Ranken sued, claiming their terminations violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The district sought dismissal of the lawsuit, claiming that, because the district has fewer than 20 employees, it does not qualify as an “employer” under the ADEA. The ADEA defines an employer as “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has 20 or more employees. …The term also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a state or political subdivision of a state.” The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the firefighters’ favor and refused to dismiss the lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision, holding that the ADEA applies to all public employers, regardless of the number of employees. Mount Lemmon Fire Dist. v. Guido, 139 S. Ct. 22 (2018).


Excessive force
Brittany Karels sued Gabriel Storz, a City of Big Lake police officer, claiming he violated her Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force when he arrested her. Karels rented a room in the basement of Jennifer and Robert Owens’ home. One night after drinking, Karels returned to the home sometime after 2:30 a.m. and began arguing loudly with Jennifer Owens. Robert Owens called 911. The Owens told the responding officers that they did not feel threatened by Karels, but they wanted her to go to her room because she had been drinking and was being argumentative.

Storz asked Karels for her identification, and she testified that when she handed him her driver’s license, he poked her in the collarbone repeatedly and yelled, “calm down” or “back off.” Karels then demanded to speak to the supervising officer. She called 911 twice to complain about the responding officers, yelling and cursing at the dispatcher during the 911 calls. After Karels left the house to smoke a cigarette, Storz informed her that she was under arrest and instructed her to put her hands behind her back. According to Karels, Storz quickly grabbed her left wrist and brought it behind her back. As Karels pulled away to put out the lit cigarette in a coffee can, Storz twisted her left arm behind her and body-slammed her onto the concrete steps, breaking her arm.

The city made a motion for summary judgment, claiming Storz was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied summary judgment, concluding that there were fact issues regarding whether Karels was resisting arrest and, if so, whether the use of force was reasonable. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that a jury could find that a reasonable officer in Storz’s position would not have interpreted these actions as resisting arrest, and would have known that Karels did not pose an immediate threat to anyone’s safety and was not a flight risk. The Court of Appeals noted that, under clearly established law, an officer cannot forcefully take down an arrestee, who is a nonviolent, nonthreatening misdemeanant that is not actively resisting arrest or attempting to flee. Karels v. Storz, 906 F.3d 740 (8th Cir. 2018). Note: The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) represented the city.


Organized collection
In 2014, the City of Bloomington began following the process outlined in Section 115A.94 of the Minnesota Waste Management Act (WMA) for moving from an open system of waste collection, in which residents are free to contract with any licensed collector, to organized collection. The WMA defines organized collection as a “system for collecting solid waste in which a specified collector, or a member of an organization of collectors, is authorized to collect from a defined geographic service area or areas some or all of the solid waste that is released by generators for collection.” In December 2015, after complying with Section 115A.94, the City Council adopted an organized collection ordinance and approved a five-year contract for organized collection with Bloomington Haulers, LLC.

In May 2016, a group of resident voters sought to invalidate the organized collection ordinance through a charter amendment petition, seeking to require voter approval for organized collection. The City Council rejected the petition, and the resident voters appealed. The district court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the City Council’s decision, holding that Section 115A.94 establishes the “exclusive process” that cities must follow to implement organized collection of solid waste and, therefore, the WMA preempts the proposed charter amendment. The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed and ruled that the WMA does not preempt the process for organizing the collection of solid waste. The Supreme Court reasoned that the WMA simply establishes the minimum procedural requirements for adopting organized collection. The Supreme Court remanded the case so the Court of Appeals could address the city’s additional legal arguments regarding why the charter amendment petition was not legally valid.

On remand, the Court of Appeals ultimately ruled in the city’s favor, holding that the charter amendment was invalid. The Court of Appeals concluded that the proposed charter amendment, which was seeking to invalidate the organized collection ordinance, was an improper exercise of referendum power because it did not comply with the city’s referendum requirements, including the requirement that a referendum petition must be submitted within 15 days after an ordinance takes effect. Jennissen v. City of Bloomington, No. A17-0221 (Minn. Ct. App. Oct. 29, 2018) (unpublished opinion). Note: LMCIT represented the city.


Traffic stop
City of Cambridge Police Officer Mathew Giese stopped a car that James Poehler was driving, after observing the car had a cracked windshield and the driver was not wearing a seat belt. The traffic stop set in motion criminal proceedings that resulted in Poehler’s convictions for driving while impaired and violating a driver’s license restriction. Poehler appealed, claiming Giese lacked reasonable suspicion (within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution) to justify stopping his car and, as a result, the district court should have granted Poehler’s motion to suppress any evidence arising from the stop. Poehler argued that Giese’s observation of the cracked windshield was insufficient to create reasonable suspicion that Poehler was violating any motor vehicle law.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with Poehler in part, holding that an officer may stop a car based on a cracked windshield only when the circumstances would lead a reasonable officer to suspect that, because of the crack’s characteristics, it is limiting or obstructing the driver’s view in violation of the obstructed view statute. Therefore, Giese’s bare observation that Poehler’s windshield was cracked was an insufficient ground for the stop. But the Court of Appeals upheld Poehler’s convictions, reasoning that there was reasonable suspicion to stop Poehler for not wearing a seat belt. State v. Poehler, ___ N.W.2d ___ (Minn. Ct. App. 2018).


Procedural due process
After a person is arrested for the crime of driving while impaired (DWI), a civil proceeding will generally also begin with a notice and order of driver’s license revocation. This document provides individuals with notice that the state intends to revoke their driver’s license. Steven Chadwick Gray received a notice and order of revocation following a failed sobriety breath test at the Dodge County Sheriff ’s Office. But the notice was left behind when Gray was transferred to a detox facility. A few days later, the county mailed the notice and order of revocation to Gray by certified mail. Gray requested an implied consent hearing to challenge his license revocation, claiming in part that his procedural due-process rights were violated because he did not receive the revocation notice.

The district court refused to consider this claim, concluding that the state statute that governs implied consent hearings does not expressly permit individuals to raise a procedural due-process claim. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed, holding that individuals have the constitutional right to raise procedural due-process arguments at implied consent hearings. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the Minnesota Legislature may not legislate away the constitutional right to due process, a right which provides a guarantee of fundamental fairness. But the Court of Appeals also concluded that Gray’s procedural due-process rights were not violated, noting that the county provided him with the notice and order of revocation in an adequate manner. Gray v. Comm’r of Public Safety, 918 N.W.2d 220 (Minn. Ct. App. 2018).

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1232.