Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A.

Facts of the Case

A 53-year-old native of Hungary, filed a suit against his former employer, alleging that he had been fired on account of his national origin and his age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), respectively. The trial court dismissed the compliant. On appeal, the trial courts decision was affirmed on the ground that employment discrimination complaint required the employee to allege facts constituting prima facie discrimination and the employee’s allegations were insufficient as a matter of law to raise an inference of discrimination. The case was elevated to the Supreme Court of the United States on certiorari.


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


No. In a unanimous opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that an employment discrimination complaint need not include specific facts establishing a prima facie case under the framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green and instead must contain only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, pursuant to Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Justice Thomas noted that the prima facie case operates as a flexible evidentiary standard and not a pleading requirement for discrimination cases. Under the Second Circuit’s heightened pleading standard, a plaintiff without direct evidence of discrimination at the time of his complaint must plead a prima facie case of discrimination, even though discovery might uncover such direct evidence, wrote Justice Thomas. It thus seems incongruous to require a plaintiff, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, to plead more facts than he may ultimately need to prove to succeed on the merits if direct evidence of discrimination is discovered.

Case Information

  • Citation: 534 US 506 (2002)
  • Argued: Jan 15, 2002
  • Decided Feb 26, 2002