The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) makes it unlawful for employers "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." The ADEA also provides that the statute's protection against discrimination applies only when the affected individual is at least 40 years of age. A pre-1997 collective bargaining agreement between the United Auto Workers (UAW) and General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. (GDLS) called for GDLS to furnish health benefits to retired employees who had worked for the company for a qualifying number of years. In 1997, however, the UAW and GDLS entered into a new collective bargaining agreement that eliminated the obligation of GDLS to provide health benefits to employees who retired after the effective date of the new agreement, except for then-current workers who were at least 50 years old at the time of the agreement. Employees in that 50-and-over category would still receive health benefits when they retired. Dennis Cline and certain other GDLS employees objected to the new collective bargaining agreement because they were under 50 years of age when the agreement was adopted, and thus would not receive health benefits when they retired. Cline and the other objecting employees were all at least 40 years of age. In a proceeding before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Cline and the similarly situated employees asserted that the 1997 agreement violated the ADEA because they were within the ADEA's protected class of persons (those at least 40 years of age) and because the agreement discriminated against them "with respect to . . . compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of [their] age" (quoting the ADEA).
They contended that age discrimination occurred when their under-50 age served as the basis for denying them the more favorable treatment to be received by persons 50 years of age or older. After no settlement occurred despite the EEOC's encouragement, Cline and the similarly situated employees sued GDLS for a supposed violation of the ADEA. In asserting that they had been discriminated against in favor of older workers, did Cline and the other plaintiffs state a valid claim under the ADEA?