O’Connor v. Consolidated Coin

517 U.S. 308, 116 S. Ct. 1307 (1996)



The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C.S. § 623(a)(1), does not ban discrimination against employees because they are aged 40 or older; it bans discrimination against employees because of their age, but limits the protected class to those who are 40 or older. The fact that one person in the protected class has lost out to another person in the protected class is thus irrelevant, so long as he has lost out because of his age.


After a 56-year-old individual was fired, the individual brought an action in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina against the individual's former employer. The individual, who claimed that he had been replaced by a 40-year-old person, alleged that the former employer had terminated him because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) (29 USCS 621 et seq.), a provision of which (29 USCS 631(a)) limits the discrimination prohibited by the ADEA to individuals who are at least 40 years of age. The employer moved for summary judgment following discovery, and the District Court granted the motion. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, affirming, expressed the view that the individual had not established a prima facie case of discrimination, under the evidentiary framework established by McDonnell Douglas Corp. v Green (1973) 411 US 792, 36 L Ed 2d 668, 93 S Ct 1817, for use in discriminatory treatment cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 USCS 2000e et seq.), because the individual had not been replaced by someone who was outside the ADEA's protected class (56 F3d 542).


Must a plaintiff, who alleges that he was discharged in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) show that he was replaced by someone outside the age group protected by the ADEA to make out a prima facie case under the framework established by ?




Assuming that Title VII's McDonnell Douglas framework is applicable to ADEA cases, there must be at least a logical connection between each element of the prima facie case and the illegal discrimination. Replacement by someone under 40 fails this requirement. Although the ADEA limits its protection to those who are 40 or older, it prohibits discrimination against those protected employees on the basis of age, not class membership. That one member of the protected class lost out to another member is irrelevant, so long as he lost out because of his age. The latter is more reliably indicated by the fact that his replacement was substantially younger than by the fact that his replacement was not a member of the protected class.

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