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).
Petitioner Akos Swierkiewicz is a native of Hungary, who at the time of his complaint was 53 years old.
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
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
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 in order to survive a motion to dismiss. For instance, we have rejected the argument that a Title VII complaint requires greater "particularity," because this would "too narrowly constric[t] the role of the pleadings." McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transp. Co., 427 U.S. 273, 283, n. 11 (1976). Consequently, the ordinary rules for assessing the sufficiency of a complaint apply. See, e. g., Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) ("When a federal court reviews the sufficiency of a complaint, before the reception of any evidence either by affidavit or admissions, its task is necessarily a limited one. The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims").
In addition, under a notice pleading system, it is not appropriate to require a plaintiff to plead facts establishing a prima facie case because the McDonnell Douglas framework does not apply in every employment discrimination case. For instance, if a plaintiff is able to produce direct evidence of discrimination, he may prevail without proving all the elements of a prima facie case. See Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U.S. 111, 121 (1985) ("[T]he McDonnell Douglas test is inapplicable where the plaintiff presents direct evidence of discrimination"). Under the Second Circuit's heightened pleading standard, a plaintiff without direct evidence of discrimination at the time of his complaint must plead a prima facie case of discrimination, even though discovery might uncover such direct evidence. It thus seems incongruous to require a plaintiff, in order to
Moreover, the precise requirements of a prima facie case can vary depending on the context and were "never intended to be rigid, mechanized, or ritualistic." Furnco Constr. Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 577 (1978); see also McDonnell Douglas, supra, at 802, n. 13 ("[T]he specification . . . of the prima facie proof required from respondent is not necessarily applicable in every respect to differing factual situations"); Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 358 (1977) (noting that this Court "did not purport to create an inflexible formulation" for a prima facie case); Ring v. First Interstate Mortgage, Inc., 984 F.2d 924, 927 (CA8 1993) ("[T]o measure a plaintiff's complaint against a particular formulation of the prima facie case at the pleading stage is inappropriate"). Before discovery has unearthed relevant facts and evidence, it may be difficult to define the precise formulation of the required prima facie case in a particular case. Given that the prima facie case operates as a flexible evidentiary standard, it should not be transposed into a rigid pleading standard for discrimination cases.
Furthermore, imposing the Court of Appeals' heightened pleading standard in employment discrimination cases conflicts with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), which provides that a complaint must include only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Such a statement must simply "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 (1957). This simplified notice pleading standard relies on liberal discovery rules and summary judgment motions to define disputed facts and issues and to dispose of unmeritorious claims. See id., at 47-48; Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168-169 (1993). "The provisions for discovery
Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions. Rule 9(b), for example, provides for greater particularity in all averments of fraud or mistake.
Other provisions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are inextricably linked to Rule 8(a)'s simplified notice pleading standard. Rule 8(e)(1) states that "[n]o technical forms of pleading or motions are required," and Rule 8(f) provides
Applying the relevant standard, petitioner's complaint easily satisfies the requirements of Rule 8(a) because it gives respondent fair notice of the basis for petitioner's claims. Petitioner alleged that he had been terminated on account of his national origin in violation of Title VII and on account of his age in violation of the ADEA. App. 28. His complaint detailed the events leading to his termination, provided relevant dates, and included the ages and nationalities of at least some of the relevant persons involved with his termination. Id., at 24-28. These allegations give respondent fair notice of what petitioner's claims are and the grounds upon which they rest. See Conley, supra, at 47. In addition, they state claims upon which relief could be granted under Title VII and the ADEA.
Respondent argues that allowing lawsuits based on conclusory allegations of discrimination to go forward will burden the courts and encourage disgruntled employees to bring unsubstantiated suits. Brief for Respondent 34-40. Whatever
For the foregoing reasons, we hold that an employment discrimination plaintiff need not plead a prima facie case of discrimination and that petitioner's complaint is sufficient to survive respondent's motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the Center for Individual Freedom by Linda Van Winkle Deacon and Julie Arias Young; and for the Equal Employment Advisory Council by Ann Elizabeth Reesman and Katherine Y. K. Cheung.