Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.a.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation534 U.S. 506,122 S.Ct. 992,152 L.Ed.2d 1
Docket Number00-1853
Parties AKOS SWIERKIEWICZ, PETITIONER v. SOREMA, N.A.SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Decision Date26 February 2002
Syllabus

Petitioner, a 53-year-old native of Hungary, filed this suit against respondent, his former employer, alleging that he had been fired on account of his national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and on account of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). In affirming the District Court's dismissal of the complaint, the Second Circuit relied on its settled precedent requiring an employment discrimination complaint to allege facts constituting a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802. The court held that petitioner had failed to meet his burden because his allegations were insufficient as a matter of law to raise an inference of discrimination.

Held: An employment discrimination complaint need not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas framework, but instead must contain only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2). The McDonnell Douglas framework-which requires the plaintiff to show (1) membership in a protected group, (2) qualification for the job in question, (3) an adverse employment action, and (4) circumstances supporting an inference of discrimination-is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement. See, e.g., 411 U.S., at 800. The Court has never indicated that the requirements for establishing a prima facie case apply to pleading. Moreover, the McDonnell Douglas framework does not apply where, for example, a plaintiff is able to produce direct evidence of discrimination. See Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U.S. 111, 121. Under the Second Circuit's heightened pleading standard, however, a plaintiff without direct evidence at the time of his complaint must plead a prima facie case of discrimination even though discovery might uncover such direct evidence. It seems incongruous to require a plaintiff, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, to plead more facts than he may ultimately need to prove to succeed on the merits if direct evidence of discrimination is discovered. Moreover, the precise requirements of the prima facie case can vary with the context and were "never intended to be rigid, mechanized, or ritualistic." Furnco Constr. Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 577. It may be difficult to define the precise formulation of the required prima facie case in a particular case before discovery has unearthed relevant facts and evidence. Consequently, the prima facie case should not be transposed into a rigid pleading standard for discrimination cases. Imposing the Second Circuit's heightened standard conflicts with Rule 8(a)'s express language, which requires simply that the complaint "give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47. A court may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73. Petitioner's complaint easily satisfies Rule 8(a)'s requirements because it gives respondent fair notice of the basis for his claims and the grounds upon which they rest. In addition, it states claims upon which relief could be granted under Title VII and the ADEA. Thus, the complaint is sufficient to survive respondent's motion to dismiss. Pp. 3-9.

5 Fed. Appx. 63, reversed and remanded.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Opinion of the Court

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a complaint in an employment discrimination lawsuit must contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth by this Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). We hold that an employment discrimination complaint need not include such facts and instead must contain only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).

I

Petitioner Akos Swierkiewicz is a native of Hungary, who at the time of his complaint was 53 years old.1 In April 1989, petitioner began working for respondent Sorema N. A., a reinsurance company headquartered in New York and principally owned and controlled by a French parent corporation. Petitioner was initially employed in the position of senior vice president and chief underwriting officer (CUO). Nearly six years later, Franois M. Chavel, respondent's Chief Executive Officer, demoted petitioner to a marketing and services position and transferred the bulk of his underwriting responsibilities to Nicholas Papadopoulo, a 32-year-old who, like Mr. Chavel, is a French national. About a year later, Mr. Chavel stated that he wanted to "energize" the underwriting department and appointed Mr. Papadopoulo as CUO. Petitioner claims that Mr. Papadopoulo had only one year of underwriting experience at the time he was promoted, and therefore was less experienced and less qualified to be CUO than he, since at that point he had 26 years of experience in the insurance industry.

Following his demotion, petitioner contends that he "was isolated by Mr. Chavel . . . excluded from business decisions and meetings and denied the opportunity to reach his true potential at SOREMA." App. 26. Petitioner unsuccessfully attempted to meet with Mr. Chavel to discuss his discontent. Finally, in April 1997, petitioner sent a memo to Mr. Chavel outlining his grievances and requesting a severance package. Two weeks later, respondent's general counsel presented petitioner with two options: He could either resign without a severance package or be dismissed. Mr. Chavel fired petitioner after he refused to resign.

Petitioner filed a lawsuit alleging that he had been terminated on account of his national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. (1994 ed. and Supp. V), and on account of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 81 Stat. 602, as amended, 29 U.S.C. 621 et seq. (1994 ed. and Supp. V). App. 28. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed petitioner's complaint because it found that he "ha[d] not adequately alleged a prima facie case, in that he ha[d] not adequately alleged circumstances that support an inference of discrimination."

Id., at 42. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal, relying on its settled precedent, which requires a plaintiff in an employment discrimination complaint to allege facts constituting a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth by this Court in McDonnell Douglas, supra, at 802. See, e.g., Tarshis v. Riese Organization, 211 F.3d 30, 35-36, 38 (CA2 2000); Austin v. Ford Models, Inc., 149 F.3d 148, 152-153 (CA2 1998). The Court of Appeals held that petitioner had failed to meet his burden because his allegations were "insufficient as a matter of law to raise an inference of discrimination." 5 Fed. Appx. 63, 65 (CA2 2001). We granted certiorari, 533 U.S. 976 (2001), to resolve a split among the Courts of Appeals concerning the proper pleading standard for employment discrimination cases,2 and now reverse.

II

Applying Circuit precedent, the Court of Appeals required petitioner to plead a prima facie case of discrimination in order to survive respondent's motion to dismiss. See 5 Fed. Appx., at 64-65. In the Court of Appeals' view, petitioner was thus required to allege in his complaint: (1) membership in a protected group; (2) qualification for the job in question; (3) an adverse employment action; and (4) circumstances that support an inference of discrimination. Ibid.; cf. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S., at 802; Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253-254, n. 6 (1981).

The prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas, however, is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement. In McDonnell Douglas, this Court made clear that "[t]he critical issue before us concern[ed] the order and allocation of proof in a private, non-class action challenging employment discrimination." 411 U.S., at 800 (emphasis added). In subsequent cases, this Court has reiterated that the prima facie case relates to the employee's burden of presenting evidence that raises an inference of discrimination. See Burdine, supra, at 252-253 ("In [McDonnell Douglas,] we set forth the basic allocation of burdens and order of presentation of proof in a Title VII case alleging discriminatory treatment. First, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination" (footnotes omitted)); 450 U.S., at 255, n. 8 ("This evidentiary relationship between the presumption created by a prima facie case and the consequential burden of production placed on the defendant is a traditional feature of the common law").

This Court has never indicated that the requirements for establishing a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas also apply to the pleading standard that plaintiffs must satisfy...

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