General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U.S. 581, 12 (2004)

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Opinion of the Court

quiring protection against preference for their juniors, not as defining a class that might be threatened by favoritism toward seniors.5

The federal reports are as replete with cases taking this position as they are nearly devoid of decisions like the one reviewed here. To start closest to home, the best example is Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U. S. 604 (1993), in which we held there is no violation of the ADEA in firing an employee because his pension is about to vest, a basis for action that we took to be analytically distinct from age, even though it would never occur without advanced years. Id., at 611- 612. We said that "the very essence of age discrimination [is] for an older employee to be fired because the employer believes that productivity and competence decline with old age," id., at 610, whereas discrimination on the basis of pension status "would not constitute discriminatory treatment on the basis of age [because t]he prohibited stereotype [of

5 Justice Thomas, post, at 606-613 (dissenting opinion), charges our holding with unnaturally limiting a comprehensive prohibition of age discrimination to "the principal evil that Congress targeted," post, at 607, which he calls inconsistent with the method of McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transp. Co., 427 U. S. 273 (1976) (the Title VII prohibition of discrimination because of race protects whites), and Oncale v. Sundowner Off-shore Services, Inc., 523 U. S. 75 (1998) (the Title VII prohibition of discrimination because of sex protects men from sexual harassment by other men). His objection is aimed at the wrong place. As we discuss at greater length infra, at 596-598, we are not dealing here with a prohibition expressed by the unqualified use of a term without any conventionally narrow sense (as "race" or "sex" are used in Title VII), and are not narrowing such a prohibition so that it covers only instances of the particular practice that induced Congress to enact the general prohibition. We hold that Congress expressed a prohibition by using a term in a commonly understood, narrow sense ("age" as "relatively old age"). Justice Thomas may think we are mistaken, post, at 603-606, when we infer that Congress used "age" as meaning the antithesis of youth rather than meaning any age, but we are not making the particular mistake of confining the application of terms used in a broad sense to the relatively narrow class of cases that prompted Congress to address their subject matter.

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