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					Legislation and Regulation
September 7, 2010
Textually-Constrained Purposivism

General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline
Supreme Court of the United States, 2004

Procedural History:

-Cline (respondents at least 40 yrs. old, but under 50) claimed, in
front of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Fed. Admin.
Agency), that the 1997 collective-bargaining agreement between General
Dynamics and the United Auto Workers—that eliminated the company’s
obligation to provide health benefits to subsequently retired
employees, except as to then-current workers at least 50 years old—
violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 81 Stat.
602, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.
-ADEA, 81 Stat. 602, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., forbids discriminatory
preference for the young over the old.
-Cline said it was a violation of the act because it “discriminated
against them…with respect to…compensation, terms, conditions, or
privileges of employment, because of their age,” § 623(a)(1).
-A divided panel of the Sixth Circuit, which hears appeals from
decisions of federal administrative agencies, found for the plaintiffs
     1. “If Congress had meant to limit its coverage to protect only
the older worker against the younger, it would have said so.”
     2. Saw the issue as one of plain meaning that produced no absurd
-Dissent based on contrary precedent in another circuit.
     1. it’s obvious that the older a person is, the greater his or
her needs become.
-Supreme Court of U.S. granted certiorari (the order a court issues so
that it can review the decision and proceedings in a lower court and
determine whether there were any irregularities) to resolve the
conflict among the Circuits.

Majority opinion:

-Both Majority and Dissent find common ground in that the ADEA’s prohibition
covers “discrimination…because of an individual’s age,” 29 U.S.C § 623(a)(1),
that helps the younger by hurting the older.
-There are two possible interpretations of “age” in this phrase: 1)
individual’s chronological age; 2) individual of older age.
-However, Congress’s interpretive clues speak almost unanimously in favor of
the latter definition.
-Secretary of Labor examined issue and concluded (Wirtz Report) that age
discrimination was a serious problem for older individuals experiencing
disadvantages in employment.

1) House and Senate Hearings
-Congress asked for specific proposal that, when received, was followed by
Extensive House and Senate hearings.
      -Testimony dwelled on unjustified assumptions about the effect of age
on ability to work:
      -No testimony found from hearings suggesting that any workers were
registering complaints about discrimination in favor of their seniors.

2) Introductory Provisions of the ADEA
-Statements of purpose and findings mirror the Wirtz Report and committee
      -Stress the impediments of older workers…in efforts to retain or regain
employment. (81 Stat. 602 § 2)
      -Statutory objects were “to promote employment of older persons based
on their ability rather than age; prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in
-One exception of “arbitrary limits”
      -Unmistakable references to the Wirtz Report’s finding that “employers
have age limitations on new hires that they apply w/o consideration of other
qualifications” (Wirtz Report 6).
      -Thus, the ADEA’s ban on “arbitrary limits” applies to age caps that
exclude older applicants to the advantage of younger ones.

3) Record Devoid of Any Evidence that Younger Suffering at the Expense of
-No social problem requiring a federal statute to place a younger worker in
equal standing with older worker.
       -Common experience is to the contrary.
             -Ordinary people in common usage would speak of “age
       discrimination” to refer to preference of younger workers.
             -“Youth culture” referred to by American society indicates world
where younger is better.

4) Statute’s Restriction of Protected Class to Those 40 and Above
-If Congress had been worried about protecting the younger against the older,
it would not have ignored everyone under 40.
-Testimony indicated 40 to be the age at which age discrimination becomes
-Thus, 40 year-old threshold identifies a class requiring protection against
preference for their juniors, not as defining a class that might be
threatened by favoritism toward seniors.

Majority’s Response to Cline and EEOC:

1) Statute’s Meaning is Plain (Dictionary Argument)
-Plain when “age” receives natural and ordinary meaning
-Statute read as whole giving “age” the same meaning throughout.
-“Age” means length of person’s life
      EX: 29 U.S.C. § 623(f): gives employer a defense to charges of age
discrimination when “age is a bona fide occupational qualification.”
            -If, as Cline argues, “age” meant “old age,” this exception would
be redundant because preferring old age is not forbidden to begin with.
            -Case precedent: Identical words in same act have identical
meanings; therefore, means chronological age throughout.

-“Age” does not mean the same thing wherever it is used.
      -Case precedent: not rigid and readily yields when reasonable to assume
different meanings of same word.
      -Here, “age” clearly has two ordinary meanings, and Congress used both.
-Statutory language must be read in context.
      -“Age” as a qualification above means one thing
      -“Age” in case of discrimination means another as revealed by social
      -Presumption of uniformity incorrect because, as shown, two different
meanings of age
      -“Race” and “Sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are
general terms that need modifiers (Race/Sex not only Black/Female)
      -“Age” needs no modifier and permits a narrower reading (coordinating
definition with social history)

2) Soundness Demonstrated by Colloquy on Senate Floor
-Exchange over concerns “the bill might not forbid discrimination between two
persons who were between 45 and 60.
       -Senator Yarborough: “the law prohibits age being a factor in the
decision to hire, as to one age over the other, whichever way [the] decision

-One Senator’s exchange is not enough to unsettle reading of the statute.
-Only item in all the 1967 hearings, reports, and debates to go against
-Even as a sponsor of the Bill, can’t defeat tide of context and history.


1) Scalia’s Dissent
-Should have deferred to contrary opinion of EEOC (Agency responsible for
enforcing ADEA)

2) Plain Language
-Mandates respondents are able to sue
-Traditional tools of statutory interpretation show respondents can stake
claim for discrimination against relatively young
      -Majority invented new tool of statutory interpretation: Social
-Starting point of interpretation is always the text and then, if ambiguous,
turn to purpose
-29 U.S.C. § 623(1) not restricted to discrimination because of relatively
older age.
      -EX: Natural to say a worker discriminated against because sole reason
he was fired was that he was under 45
-Majority highlights ambiguity in two definitions
      -But, primary definition is chronological age, NOT “old age”
            -According to dictionary, if “old age,” usually clear in
immediate context
                  -EX: “hair white with age”
      -Use of “age” in other parts of statute destroys any remaining doubt
            -EX: ADEA’s ad prohibition and Bona Fide Occupational
qualification defense (incoherent if “old age”)
-Senator Yarborough only goes to confirm plain meaning “meant what was said.”

3) Social History not Sanctioned Method of Interpretation
-Majority does not define Social History
      -Only different from legislative history because   refers to both
-Non-discrimination statutes not typically interpreted   in narrow manner.
      -EX: Title VII Civil Rights Act 1964 (“race” and   “sex” to mean broad
sense of words)
      -Usually extended to cover reasonably comparable   evils

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