Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the second circuit

No. 00-1853. Argued January 15, 2002—Decided February 26, 2002

Petitioner, a 53-year-old native of Hungary, filed this 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 (ADEA). In affirming the District Court's dismissal of the complaint, the Second Circuit relied on its settled precedent requiring an employment discrimination complaint to allege facts constituting a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U. S. 792, 802. The court held that petitioner had failed to meet his burden because his allegations were insufficient as a matter of law to raise an inference of discrimination.

Held: An employment discrimination complaint need not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas framework, but instead must contain only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2). The McDonnell Douglas framework—which requires the plaintiff to show (1) membership in a protected group, (2) qualification for the job in question, (3) an adverse employment action, and (4) circumstances supporting an inference of discrimination—is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement. See, e. g., 411 U. S., at 800. The Court has never indicated that the requirements for establishing a prima facie case apply to pleading. Moreover, the McDonnell Douglas framework does not apply where, for example, a plaintiff is able to produce direct evidence of discrimination. See Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U. S. 111, 121. Under the Second Circuit's heightened pleading standard, however, a plaintiff without direct evidence at the time of his complaint must plead a prima facie case of discrimination even though discovery might uncover such direct evidence. It 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. Moreover, the precise requirements of the prima facie case can vary with the context and were "never intended to be rigid, mechanized, or ritualistic." Furnco Constr. Corp. v. Waters, 438

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