Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia
A Massachusetts statute making it mandatory for a uniformed state police officer to retire at age 50 held not to deny equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
(a) Rationality, rather than strict scrutiny, is the proper standard for determining whether the statute violates equal protection. Equal protection analysis requires strict scrutiny of a legislative classification only when it impermissibly interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right or operates to the peculiar disadvantage of a suspect class. Here mandatory retirement at 50 does not implicate any fundamental right of a uniformed state police officer over that age, since a right of governmental employment per se is not fundamental, and the class of such officers over 50 does not constitute a suspect class, since classifications based on age are not considered suspect.
(b) Since physical ability generally declines with age, mandatory retirement at 50 serves to remove from police service those whose fitness for uniformed police work has presumptively diminished with age and is, therefore, rationally related to the State's announced legitimate objective of protecting the public by assuring the physical preparedness of its uniformed police. There is no indication that the statute has the effect of excluding from service so few officers who are in fact unqualified as to render age 50 a criterion wholly unrelated to such objective. While the State perhaps has not chosen the best means to accomplish its purpose, where rationality is the test, a statute "does not violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the classifications made by [it] are imperfect." Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 485.
Terence P. O'Malley, Assistant Attorney General of Massachusetts, argued the cause for appellants. With him on the brief were Francis X. Bellotti, Attorney General, and S. Stephen Rosenfeld and Margot Botsford, Assistant Attorneys General.
Robert D. City argued the cause and filed a brief for appellee.[*]
^ . Henry Friedman filed a brief for the State Police Association of Massachusetts as amicus curiae urging reversal.
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by James A. Lanigan, Alfred Miller, and Stephen L. Solomon for the American Association of Retired Persons et al.; by Howard Eglit, Jonathan A. Weiss, and Melvin Wulf for Legal Services for the Elderly Poor et al.; by Thomas K. Gilhool and Edwin D. Wolf for the Older and Middle Age Worker Ombudsman Pilot Project of United Communities of Southeastern Philadelphia et al.; by James J. McNamara for the American Medical Association; and by Melvin S. Louison for Lieutenant Lawrence Carter et al.