Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A.

PETITIONER: Swierkiewicz
RESPONDENT: Sorema N.A.
LOCATION: United States District Court Eastern District of Louisiana

DOCKET NO.: 00-1853
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 534 US 506 (2002)
ARGUED: Jan 15, 2002
DECIDED: Feb 26, 2002

ADVOCATES:
Harold I. Goodman - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Jeffrey P. Minear - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, supporting the petitioner
Lauren R. Brody - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Akos Swierkiewicz, a 53-year-old native of Hungary, began working for Sorema N. A., a reinsurance company principally owned and controlled by a French parent corporation, in 1989. Six years later, the Chief Executive Officer, a French national, demoted Swierkiewicz from the position of senior vice president and chief underwriting officer to a marketing and services position with fewer responsibilities. A younger French national was promoted to Swierkiewicz's old position. Swierkiewicz filed suit, alleging that he had been fired on account of his national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,and on account of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). In dismissing the case, the District Court found that Swierkiewicz had not adequately alleged a prima facie case, in that he had not adequately alleged circumstances that support an inference of discrimination. In affirming, the Court of Appeals relied on precedent requiring an employment discrimination complaint to allege facts constituting a prima facie case of discrimination under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792.

Question

Must a complaint in an employment discrimination lawsuit contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination?

Media for Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 2002 in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 26, 2002 in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A.

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in No. 00-1853, Swierkiewicz versus Sorema N.A. will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Petitioner, a 53-year-old native of Hungary filed the suit against respondent, his former employer alleging that he had been fired on account of his national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and on account of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

In affirming the District Court’s dismissal of the complaint, the Court of Appeals relied on its settled precedent which requires an employment discrimination complaint to alleged facts constituting a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas versus Green.

The Court of Appeals held that petitioner had failed to meet this burden because his allegations were insufficient as a matter of law to raise an inference of discrimination.

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

An employment discrimination complaint need not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas framework, but instead must contain as Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, ADEA requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.

The McDonnell Douglas framework is an evidentiary standard not a pleading requirement.

The Second Circuit’s heightened pleadings standard for employment discrimination cases conflicts with Rule 8(a)'s expressed language which requires simply that the complaint give the defendant notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.

Applying this standard, petitioner’s complaint easily satisfies the requirements of Rule 8(a) because it gives respondent fair notice of the basis of petitioner’s claim.

In addition, the complaints states claims upon which relief could be granted under Title VII and the Age Discrimination and Employment Act.

Thus, we conclude that the complaint is sufficient to survive respondent’s motion to dismiss.

The opinion of the court is unanimous.