3.02.2011

Supreme Court Determines “Cat’s Paw” Discrimination Can Result in Liability

“The Monkey and the Cat” was a fable written by 17th Century French Poet, Jean de La Fontaine. Staub v. Proctor Hospital is a March 1, 2011 decision written by Justice Scalia of the United States Supreme Court. I very much doubt Fontaine ever figured his work would give rise to a legal theory used to impose liability upon employers, but it has been invoked to increase the potential for finding employers liable for discrimination.

“In The Monkey and the Cat,” the clever monkey tricks the cat into reaching into a fire to scoop out chestnuts. The cat burns his paw and the monkey enjoys the chestnuts. In employment law, the cat’s paw theory of discrimination was developed to impose liability upon an employer when the individual making the ultimate employment decision has no discriminatory bias or animus, but another individual that influenced the ultimate decision did possess a discriminatory bias or animus.

Staub was employed as an angiography technician at Proctor Hospital and was also an Army Reservist. His immediate supervisor and the next level supervisor were hostile regarding Staub’s military obligations. Staub was disciplined by these two supervisors. As a result of this discipline, Staub was terminated by the vice president of human resources (“HR Manager”) who possessed no hostility, but who relied on information provided by the two supervisors in making the decision to terminate Staub. Staub acknowledged that the HR manager had no discriminatory bias; however, the case proceeded to the Supreme Court to determine whether Staub could recover under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”) based on the discriminatory bias of the supervisors.

The Court determined that even though a biased supervisor does not make the ultimate decision to terminate, liability may still exist if the supervisor’s discriminatory intent proximately caused the adverse employment action. The Court’s use of the term “intent” determines that an employer is liable if a supervisor commits an action based on discriminatory bias that was intended to cause an adverse employment decision.

To read more about the decision and how it affects employers, click here to view the full article on our website.




Contact:  Jon Secrest
614.723.2029
jsecrest@ralaw.com

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