Cline v. General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc., No. 00-3468.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtRyan
Citation296 F.3d 466
Docket NumberNo. 00-3468.
Decision Date22 July 2002
PartiesDennis CLINE, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. GENERAL DYNAMICS LAND SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
296 F.3d 466
Dennis CLINE, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
GENERAL DYNAMICS LAND SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
No. 00-3468.
United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.
Argued: September 18, 2001.
Decided and Filed: July 22, 2002.
Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied: September 19, 2002.*

Page 467

Mark W. Biggerman (argued and briefed), Reminger & Reminger, Cleveland, Ohio, E. Bruce Hadden (argued and briefed), Hadden Company, Columbus, OH, for Appellants.

Craig C. Martin (argued and briefed), Jenner & Block, Chicago, IL, for Appellee.

Before RYAN and COLE, Circuit Judges; WILLIAMS, District Judge.**

RYAN, Circuit Judge, delivered the opinion of the court. COLE, Circuit Judge (pp. 472-76), delivered a separate concurring opinion. WILLIAMS, District Judge (pp. 476-77), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

RYAN, Circuit Judge.


We must decide whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634, which prohibits an employer from discriminating against any employee age 40 and over on the basis of age, provides a cause of action for employees within the protected class who claim that their employer discriminated against them on the basis of age because of the employer's more favorable treatment of older employees, also within the class. We hold that on the facts of this case the ADEA does provide the plaintiffs a cause of action, and that they have made out an actionable claim.

We rest our holding on familiar canons of statutory construction too elementary to require a citation, which direct courts to apply statutes consistent with their plain language; that is, by assigning to the words of the statute their primary and generally understood meaning. We conclude that in dismissing the plaintiffs' complaint, the district court opinion departs from this familiar maxim, and therefore, we reverse the district court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.

I.

Dennis Cline, as named representative for the putative class, and 195 other employees of General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc., brought suit against their employer after their labor union, the United Auto Workers, and General Dynamics entered into a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA2). The agreement took

Page 468

effect July 1, 1997. Before that date, the parties had been bound by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA1) that obligated General Dynamics to provide full health benefits to retired workers who had accumulated 30 years of seniority. With one exception, the new agreement no longer required General Dynamics to provide full health benefits to retirees. That exception held that only employees 50 years of age or older on July 1, 1997, remained eligible to receive full health benefits upon retirement. As a result, the plaintiffs sought, and obtained, a determination from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the CBA2 adversely affected General Dynamics employees who were between the ages of 40 and 49 on July 1, 1997.

Cline and his fellow employees then filed suit under the ADEA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634, and the Ohio Civil Rights Act, Ohio Rev.Code § 4112.99. They alleged that the provision of health benefits solely to those over the age of 50 constituted illegal discrimination based on age. Each of the plaintiffs was between the ages of 40 and 49 on July 1, 1997, and thus a member of the ADEA's protected class. For purposes of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs self-divided into three groups. The so-called "Cline group" is composed of 183 current General Dynamics employees who are no longer eligible for full health benefits upon retirement. The "Babb group" consists of 10 employees who retired prior to July 1, 1997, in order to receive full health benefits. Finally, the "Diaz group" includes three employees who retired after July 1, 1997, and are ineligible for health benefits.

In addition to their age discrimination claims, the plaintiffs also sought "declaratory judgment," but in their complaint they made no reference to the Declaratory Judgment Act; they simply requested that the district court determine whether the Cline group had standing to sue and whether their claims were ripe. If the court determined that the Cline group did not have either standing and/or ripe claims, the plaintiffs then requested that the district court determine when they would have standing and ripe claims.

Upon the defendant's motion, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs' suit pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). At the outset of its memorandum opinion, the district court noted that the ADEA and the Ohio Civil Rights Act would be interpreted together and receive identical legal analyses. The district court characterized the plaintiffs' argument as a claim that they were wrongfully denied existing job benefits on the basis of age. The court held that under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1), (2)(A), General Dynamics's provision of health benefits upon retirement was part of a "welfare benefit plan," which the company was not obligated to provide. The court concluded that it would have been permissible to withhold retiree health benefits from all employees under the CBA2. While the district court admitted that the CBA2 "facially discriminates" by creating two classes of employees based solely on age, it ultimately concluded that the ADEA does not recognize claims for "reverse discrimination." The court reasoned that the ADEA was drafted to aid "older workers," not those who suffer age discrimination because they are too young. The district court did not specifically address Cline's request for declaratory relief.

II.

We review de novo a district court's grant of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Lawrence v. Chancery Court of Tenn., 188 F.3d 687, 691 (6th Cir.1999).

The starting point in determining how a statute is to be applied is the language

Page 469

of the statute itself. Consumer Prod. Safety Comm'n v. GTE Sylvania, Inc., 447 U.S. 102, 108, 100 S.Ct. 2051, 64 L.Ed.2d 766 (1980); United States v. Ospina, 18 F.3d 1332, 1335 (6th Cir.1994). This court has said that "[t]he primary rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the legislative intent." Hedgepeth v. Tenn., 215 F.3d 608, 616 (6th Cir.2000). Legislative intent, however, is gleaned primarily from the statute's plain language, and where the statute's language is plain and unambiguous, there is no justification for resorting to legislative history to ascertain the lawmaker's intent — the words of the statute suffice. In re Comshare Inc. Sec. Litig., 183 F.3d 542, 549 (6th Cir.1999). The Supreme Court has recognized that "statutory provisions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed." Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 79, 118 S.Ct. 998, 140 L.Ed.2d 201 (1998). Moreover, if a court thinks statutory language does not reflect what the court believes the legislators "must have" intended, the court may not, under the guise of "statutory interpretation," rectify the problem by holding, in effect, that the legislators intended something other than what they declared. "`It is not the Court's role to address perceived inadequacies in [a statute].'" In re Aberl, 78 F.3d 241, 244 (6th Cir.1996) (quoting Wolf Creek Collieries v. Robinson, 872 F.2d 1264, 1269 (6th Cir.1989)) (alteration in original). Thus, courts must apply a statute as its language directs, not in accordance with a judicial supposition as to what the legislature might better have written. The application of these simple and settled canons easily determines the proper resolution of this case. Section 623(a)(1) of the ADEA reads:

It shall be unlawful for an employer —

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age.

29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1) (emphasis added). This language clearly and unambiguously forbids employers from defining the terms and benefits of "any individual['s]" employment based solely on his or her age. In § 631(a), Congress declared that "any individual" means those "individuals who are at least 40 years of age." 29 U.S.C. § 631(a). Thus, by the law's plain language, an employer may not discriminate against any worker age 40 or older on the basis of age. Those younger than 40 are not protected by the ADEA. O'Connor v. Consol. Coin Caterers Corp., 517 U.S. 308, 312, 116 S.Ct. 1307, 134 L.Ed.2d 433 (1996).

To reach the conclusion for which the defendant argues, and that was found persuasive by the district court, we would be required to hold that the plain language of § 623(a)(1) and § 631(a) does not mean what it says when it refers to "any individual," but means, instead, "older workers." Thus, only "older workers," meaning those individuals who are at least 40 years of age and, in addition, relatively older than any other group of employees with whom they are compared, are protected. This interpretive reading of the statute led the district court to conclude that the ADEA does not prohibit an employer from discriminating, on the basis of age, against "any individual" who is a member of the ADEA's protected class, but only prohibits discrimination against those in the protected class who are "older" than the favored employees. We think the plain meaning of the statute will not bear that reading.

In support of its holding, the district court cited to Hamilton v. Caterpillar,

Page 470

Inc., 966 F.2d 1226, 1228 (7th Cir.1992), for the proposition that the ADEA does not recognize claims of reverse age discrimination. We recognize that Hamilton and the majority of courts to consider the question before us have...

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9 practice notes
  • American Civil Liberties Union v. Dept. of Defense, Docket No. 06-3140-cv.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • 22 Septiembre 2008
    ...`any'" argument advanced by the defendants here, the Sixth Circuit held that it did. See Cline v. Gen. Dynamics Land Sys., Inc., 296 F.3d 466, 470 (6th Cir.2002) ("[T]he ADEA requires us to hold . . . that employment age discrimination against any worker at least 40 years of age i......
  • Burlison v. U.S., No. 06-6369.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • 17 Julio 2008
    ...we are permitted to review its legislative history to aid us in determining Congress's intent. Cline v. Gen. Dynamics Land Sys., Inc., 296 F.3d 466, 473 (6th Cir.2002), rev'd on other grounds, 540 U.S. 581, 124 S.Ct. 1236, 157 L.Ed.2d 1094 (2004). A 1965 House Report on the Refuge Act refer......
  • Lawrence v. Town of Irondequoit, No. 01-CV-6306L.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • 29 Octubre 2002
    ...age discrimination claims). The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has held otherwise, see Cline v. Gen. Dynamics Land Sys., Inc., 296 F.3d 466, 470-71 (6th Cir.2002) (holding that a plain reading of the ADEA permits younger workers in protected class to sue employers for age discrimina......
  • State v. Courchesne, (SC 16665).
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 11 Marzo 2003
    ...of statutory interpretation as "too elementary to require a citation . . . ." Cline v. General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc., 296 F.3d 466, 467 (6th Cir. 2002). The rule's doctrinal pedigree is, indeed, impressive. The principle upon which the rule is premised can be traced at least......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • American Civil Liberties Union v. Dept. of Defense, Docket No. 06-3140-cv.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • 22 Septiembre 2008
    ...means `any'" argument advanced by the defendants here, the Sixth Circuit held that it did. See Cline v. Gen. Dynamics Land Sys., Inc., 296 F.3d 466, 470 (6th Cir.2002) ("[T]he ADEA requires us to hold . . . that employment age discrimination against any worker at least 40 years of age is pr......
  • Burlison v. U.S., No. 06-6369.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • 17 Julio 2008
    ...we are permitted to review its legislative history to aid us in determining Congress's intent. Cline v. Gen. Dynamics Land Sys., Inc., 296 F.3d 466, 473 (6th Cir.2002), rev'd on other grounds, 540 U.S. 581, 124 S.Ct. 1236, 157 L.Ed.2d 1094 (2004). A 1965 House Report on the Refuge Act refer......
  • Lawrence v. Town of Irondequoit, No. 01-CV-6306L.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • 29 Octubre 2002
    ...age discrimination claims). The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has held otherwise, see Cline v. Gen. Dynamics Land Sys., Inc., 296 F.3d 466, 470-71 (6th Cir.2002) (holding that a plain reading of the ADEA permits younger workers in protected class to sue employers for age discrimina......
  • State v. Courchesne, (SC 16665).
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 11 Marzo 2003
    ...this principle of statutory interpretation as "too elementary to require a citation . . . ." Cline v. General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc., 296 F.3d 466, 467 (6th Cir. 2002). The rule's doctrinal pedigree is, indeed, impressive. The principle upon which the rule is premised can be traced at ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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