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Gen. Dynamics Land Sys. v. Cline

Supreme Court of the United States

November 12, 2003, Argued ; February 24, 2004, Decided

No. 02-1080

Opinion

 [*584]  [**1239]   Justice Souter delivered the opinion of the Court.

] The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA or Act), 81 Stat 602, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. 29 USCS §§ 621 et seq.], forbids discriminatory [****8]  preference for the young over the old. The question in this case is whether it also prohibits favoring the old over the young. We hold it does not.

In 1997, a collective-bargaining agreement between petitioner General Dynamics and the United Auto Workers eliminated the company's obligation to provide health benefits to subsequently retired employees, except as to then-current workers at least 50 years old. Respondents (collectively, Cline) were then at least 40 and thus protected by the Act, see 29 U.S.C. § 631(a) [29 USCS § 631(a)], but under 50 and so without promise of the benefits. All of them objected to the new terms, although some had retired before the change in order to get  [*585]  the prior advantage, some retired afterwards with no benefit, and some worked on, knowing the new contract would give them no health coverage when they were through.

Before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC or Commission) they claimed that the agreement violated the ADEA, because it "discriminate[d against them] . . . with respect to . . . compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of [their] age," § 623(a)(1). The EEOC agreed, and invited General [****9]  Dynamics and the union to settle informally with Cline.

When they failed, Cline brought this action against General Dynamics, combining claims under the ADEA and state law. The District Court called the federal claim one of "reverse age discrimination," upon which, it observed, no court had ever  [***1104]   [**1240]  granted relief under the ADEA. 98 F. Supp. 2d 846, 848 (ND Ohio 2000). It dismissed in reliance on the Seventh Circuit's opinion in Hamilton v. Caterpillar Inc., 966 F.2d 1226 (1992), that "the ADEA 'does not protect . . . the younger against the older,'" id., at 1227 (quoting Karlen v. City Colleges of Chicago, 837 F.2d 314, 318 (CA7), cert denied sub nom. Teachers v. City Colleges of Chicago, 486 U.S. 1044, 100 L. Ed. 2d 622, 108 S. Ct. 2038 (1988)).

A divided panel of the Sixth Circuit reversed, 296 F.3d 466 (2002), with the majority reasoning that the prohibition of § 623(a)(1), covering discrimination against "any individual . . . because of such individual's age," is so clear on its face that if Congress had meant to limit its coverage to protect only the older worker against the younger, it would have said [****10]  so. Id., at 472.  The court acknowledged the conflict of its ruling with earlier cases, including Hamilton and Schuler v. Polaroid Corp., 848 F.2d 276 (1988) (Breyer, J.), from the First Circuit, but it criticized the cases going the other way for paying too much attention to the "hortatory, generalized language" of the congressional findings incorporated in the ADEA. 296 F.3d at 470. The Sixth Circuit  [*586]  drew support for its view from the position taken by the EEOC in an interpretive regulation. 1 Id., at 471.

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540 U.S. 581 *; 124 S. Ct. 1236 **; 157 L. Ed. 2d 1094 ***; 2004 U.S. LEXIS 1623 ****; 72 U.S.L.W. 4168; 93 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 257; 84 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P41,592; 32 Employee Benefits Cas. (BNA) 1001; 17 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 125

GENERAL DYNAMICS LAND SYSTEMS, INC., Petitioner v. DENNIS CLINE et al.

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.

Cline v. General Dynamics Land Sys., 296 F.3d 466, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 14643 (6th Cir. Ohio, 2002)

Disposition: 296 F.3d 466, reversed.

CORE TERMS

older, age discrimination, younger, discriminate, Hearings, legislative history, terms, older worker, cases, social history, retirement, Rights, hiring, regulation, employees, sex, provisions, deference, statutory interpretation, racial minority, unemployment, old age, qualification, benefits, pension, fired, youth, federal statute, discriminat[ion, Dictionary

Labor & Employment Law, Age Discrimination, Scope & Definitions, General Overview, Discrimination, Discriminatory Employment Practices, Pension Benefits, Remedies, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Business & Corporate Compliance, Federal & State Interrelationships, Racial Discrimination, Title VII Discrimination, Administrative Law, Judicial Review, Standards of Review, Covered Employers