General Dynamics Land Systems Inc. v. Cline

PETITIONER: General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Dennis Cline, et al.
LOCATION: Pennsylvania General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 02-1080
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 540 US 581 (2004)
GRANTED: Apr 21, 2003
ARGUED: Nov 12, 2003
DECIDED: Feb 24, 2004

ADVOCATES:
Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. - argued the cause for Petitioner
Mark W. Biggerman - argued the cause for Respondent
Paul D. Clement - argued the cause for Respondent, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

General Dynamics Land Systems renegotiated its union contract to provide full health care benefits only to retirees who were more than 50 years old by a July 1, 1997, deadline. Union member Dennis Cline fell two years short of 50 at the time of the deadline and was excluded permanently from receiving health benefits.

Cline - along with 196 other 40-to 49-year-old employees - filed suit against General Dynamics under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). ADEA protects workers over 40 from age discrimination. Since the contract excluded workers between the ages of 40 and 49, Cline alleged that providing benefits only to retirees 50 and up was illegal age discrimination.

A U.S. district court in Ohio rejected Cline's claims. The court ruled that the ADEA does not recognize claims for "reverse discrimination" or preferential treatment for older people within the same over-40 class. Cline appealed and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed. The court ruled that General Dynamics was guilty of plain age discrimination, since the ADEA protects all persons over 40 from age discrimination by their employers.

Question

Does the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967) prohibit "reverse discrimination" against workers over 40 (e.g., providing more favorable employer benefits to workers over 50 than to younger workers who are still over 40)?

Media for General Dynamics Land Systems Inc. v. Cline

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 12, 2003 in General Dynamics Land Systems Inc. v. Cline

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 24, 2004 in General Dynamics Land Systems Inc. v. Cline

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

The first of the two is No. 02-1080, General Dynamics Land Systems against Cline.

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the Sixth Circuit.

In 1997 a collective bargaining agreement between petitioner, General Dynamics, and 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 are a group of workers under 50 who brought this action in Federal Court under the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, the ADEA.

They challenge the favorable treatment of the older employees on a theory of what the District Court called reverse age discrimination.

The Court observed that no court had ever granted relief under the ADEA on such a claim and dismissed the complaint.

On appeal, a divided panel of the Sixth Circuit reversed with the majority reasoning that the ADEA’s prohibition of discrimination against “any individual because of such individual’s age” is so clear in its face that if Congress had meant to limit its coverage to protect only the older worker against the younger, it would have said so.

We granted certiorari to resolve the resulting conflict among the Circuits.

In an opinion filed today with he Clerk of the Court, we reverse.

The common ground in this case that the ADEA forbids discriminatory preference for the young over the old.

The question is whether it also prohibits favoring the old over the young.

In the abstract, the ADEA’s reference simply to age could be read either way.

The more expansive possible understanding does not however square over the natural reading of the whole provision prohibiting discrimination.

In common experience along with the congressional testimony, reports, and findings simply confirm that Congress used the phrase discrimination because of an individual’s age the same way that ordinary people in common usage might speak of age discrimination any day of the week.

That is as showing that the statute does not mean to stop an employer from favoring an older employee over a younger one.

Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion; Justice Thomas has also filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Kennedy joins.