General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U.S. 581, 11 (2004)

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Cite as: 540 U. S. 581 (2004)

Opinion of the Court

to protect a relatively old worker from discrimination that works to the advantage of the relatively young.

Nor is it remarkable that the record is devoid of any evidence that younger workers were suffering at the expense of their elders, let alone that a social problem required a federal statute to place a younger worker in parity with an older one. Common experience is to the contrary, and the testimony, reports, and congressional findings simply confirm that Congress used the phrase "discriminat[ion] . . . 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. One commonplace conception of American society in recent decades is its character as a "youth culture," and in a world where younger is better, talk about discrimination because of age is naturally understood to refer to discrimination against the older.

This same, idiomatic sense of the statutory phrase is confirmed by the statute's restriction of the protected class to those 40 and above. If Congress had been worrying about protecting the younger against the older, it would not likely have ignored everyone under 40. The youthful deficiencies of inexperience and unsteadiness invite stereotypical and discriminatory thinking about those a lot younger than 40, and prejudice suffered by a 40-year-old is not typically owing to youth, as 40-year-olds sadly tend to find out. The enemy of 40 is 30, not 50. See H. R. Rep. No. 805, 90th Cong., 1st Sess., 6 (1967) ("[T]estimony indicated [40] to be the age at which age discrimination in employment becomes evident"). Even so, the 40-year threshold was adopted over the objection that some discrimination against older people begins at an even younger age; female flight attendants were not fired at 32 because they were too young, ibid. See also Senate Hearings 47 (statement of Sec'y Wirtz) (lowering the minimum age limit "would change the nature of the proposal from an over-age employment discrimination measure"). Thus, the 40-year threshold makes sense as identifying a class re-


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