Cite as: 540 U. S. 581 (2004)
Thomas, J., dissenting
rather than looking through the historical background of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), I would instead start with the text of § 623(a)(1) itself, and if "the words of [the] statute are unambiguous," my "judicial inquiry [would be] complete." Id., at 254 (internal quotation marks omitted).
The plain language of the ADEA clearly allows for suits brought by the relatively young when discriminated against in favor of the relatively old. The phrase "discriminate . . . because of such individual's age," 29 U. S. C. § 623(a)(1), is not restricted to discrimination because of relatively older age. If an employer fired a worker for the sole reason that the worker was under 45, it would be entirely natural to say that the worker had been discriminated against because of his age. I struggle to think of what other phrase I would use to describe such behavior. I wonder how the Court would describe such incidents, because the Court apparently considers such usage to be unusual, atypical, or aberrant. See ante, at 591 (concluding that the "common usage" of language would exclude discrimination against the relatively young from the phrase "discriminat[ion] . . . because of [an] individual's age").
The parties do identify a possible ambiguity, centering on the multiple meanings of the word "age." As the parties note, "age" does have an alternative meaning, namely, "[t]he state of being old; old age." American Heritage Dictionary 33 (3d ed. 1992); see also Oxford American Dictionary 18 (1999); Webster's Third New International Dictionary 40 (1993). First, this secondary meaning is, of course, less commonly used than the primary meaning, and appears restricted to those few instances where it is clear in the immediate context of the phrase that it could have no other meaning. The phrases "hair white with age," American Heritage Dictionary, supra, at 33, or "eyes ...dim with age," Random House Dictionary of the English Language 37 (2d ed. 1987), cannot possibly be using "age" to include "young
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