Are You Too Old To Be A Firefighter?


Discrimination comes in many different forms. Just when you think society has moved a step forward you find we’re still hanging out two steps behind. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age.

Imagine being an approved candidate for a firefighting job but oops, you made the mistake of turning 35 years old and an opening hadn’t become available so you’re out of luck, no longer eligible. In 2005 that’s just what happened to Steven Jaksha of Butte, Montana. In January 2006 he filed a lawsuit against the county after being refused a job at Butte-Silver Bow Fire Department due to his age.

Believe it or not when the case hit the Butte district court the jury ruled in favor of the county. He appealed the verdict in the district court and lost again. He went on to the state’s Supreme Court earlier this year to appeal the verdict.

On Tuesday, the high court agreed that the state law setting an age limit for hiring new firefighters is unconstitutional. The ruling effectively makes the state law requiring new firefighters to be 34 or younger unconstitutional and drops the age limit for hiring firefighters statewide.

However, the high court didn’t reverse the jury’s verdict or post-trial rulings in the Butte district court. It felt that Jaksha failed to demonstrate or allege the county acted with malice or corruption when it didn’t hire him, because it was technically following state and local law at the time. Unfortunately for Jaksha this means no new trial or any compensation for damages by the county.

Jaksha now 39, who plans to take the firefighters test again in June 2010, told The Montana Standard he has mixed feelings about the high court’s decision.

“After reading the opinion Wednesday morning, I said, ‘I won, but I lost,’” he said.