General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U.S. 581, 15 (2004)

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

Opinion of the Court

phrase "because of such individual's age" stating a simple test of causation: "discriminat[ion] . . . because of [an] individual's age" is treatment that would not have occurred if the individual's span of years had been longer or shorter. The case for this reading calls attention to the other instances of "age" in the ADEA that are not limited to old age, such as 29 U. S. C. 623(f), which gives an employer a defense to charges of age discrimination when "age is a bona fide occupational qualification." Cline and the EEOC argue that if "age" meant old age, 623(f) would then provide a defense (old age is a bona fide qualification) only for an employer's action that on our reading would never clash with the statute (because preferring the older is not forbidden).

The argument rests on two mistakes. First, it assumes that the word "age" has the same meaning wherever the ADEA uses it. But this is not so, and Cline simply misem-ploys the "presumption that identical words used in different parts of the same act are intended to have the same meaning." Atlantic Cleaners & Dyers, Inc. v. United States, 286 U. S. 427, 433 (1932). Cline forgets that "the presumption is not rigid and readily yields whenever there is such variation in the connection in which the words are used as reasonably to warrant the conclusion that they were employed in different parts of the act with different intent." Ibid.; see also United States v. Cleveland Indians Baseball Co., 532 U. S. 200, 213 (2001) (phrase "wages paid" has different meanings in different parts of Title 26 U. S. C.); Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U. S. 337, 343-344 (1997) (term "employee" has different meanings in different parts of Title VII). The presumption of uniform usage thus relents 8 when a word used

8 It gets too little credit for relenting, though. "The tendency to assume that a word which appears in two or more legal rules, and so in connection with more than one purpose, has and should have precisely the same scope in all of them, runs all through legal discussions. It has all the tenacity of original sin and must constantly be guarded against." Cook, "Substance" and "Procedure" in the Conflict of Laws, 42 Yale L. J. 333, 337


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