General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U.S. 581, 17 (2004)

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

Opinion of the Court

context tells us that "age" means one thing in 623(a)(1) and another in 623(f),9 so it also tells us that the presumption of uniformity cannot sensibly operate here.10

The comparisons Justice Thomas urges, post, at 608-612, to McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transp. Co., 427 U. S. 273 (1976), and Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U. S. 75 (1998), serve to clarify our position. Both cases involved Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U. S. C. 2000e et seq., and its prohibition on employment discrimination "because of [an] individual's race . . . [or] sex," 2000e- 2(a)(1) (emphasis added). The term "age" employed by the ADEA is not, however, comparable to the terms "race" or "sex" employed by Title VII. "Race" and "sex" are general terms that in every day usage require modifiers to indicate

9 An even wider contextual enquiry supports our conclusion, for the uniformity Cline and the EEOC claim for the uses of "age" within the ADEA itself would introduce unwelcome discord among the federal statutes on employee benefit plans. For example, the Tax Code requires an employer to allow certain employees who reach age 55 to diversify their stock ownership plans in part, 26 U. S. C. 401(a)(28)(B); removes a penalty on early distributions from retirement plans at age 591/2, 72(t)(2)(A)(i); requires an employer to allow many employees to receive benefits immediately upon retiring at age 65, 401(a)(14); and requires an employer to adjust upward an employee's pension benefits if that employee continues to work past age 701/2, 401(a)(9)(C)(iii). The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 makes similar provisions. See, e. g., 29 U. S. C. 1002(24) ("normal retirement age" may come at age 65, although the plan specifies later); 1053(a) (a plan must pay full benefits to employees who retire at normal retirement age). Taken one at a time any of these statutory directives might be viewed as an exception Congress carved out of a generally recognized principle that employers may not give benefits to older employees that they withhold from younger ones. Viewed as a whole, however, they are incoherent with the alleged congressional belief that such a background principle existed.

10 Essentially the same answer suffices for Cline's and the EEOC's suggestion that our reading is at odds with the statute's ban on employers' "print[ing] . . . any notice or advertisement relating to employment . . . indicating any preference, limitation, specification, or discrimination . . . based on age." 623(e).


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