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Total Articles: 6

U.S. SUPREME COURT OUTLINES EMPLOYER LIABILITY FOR DISCRIMINATION UNDER “CAT’S PAW” THEORY (pdf)

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that an employer can be held liable for employment discrimination based upon the discriminatory animus of a supervisor who influenced, but did not make, the ultimate employment decision. Staub v. Proctor Hospital, No. 09-400 (S.Ct. March 1, 2011). The case is an important one for employers, who can now be liable for discrimination where the decision-maker who takes the adverse employment action against the employee has no discriminatory animus if he or she is relying upon recommendations of a supervisor who does.

U.S. Supreme Court Outlines Parameters of “Cat’s Paw” Theory of Liability

On March 1, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held in Staub v. Proctor Hospital (.pdf) that an employer can, in certain circumstances, be held liable for employment discrimination based upon the bias of a supervisor who influenced, but did not make, the ultimate employment decision. The Court struck down a narrow version of this so-called “cat’s paw” argument, under which the employer could be held liable only if the biased supervisor exerted a “singular influence” over the ultimate employment decision. Unfortunately, the Court’s decision provides little guidance for employers as to what steps they can take to avoid liability for “cat’s paw” claims.

Supreme Court Expands Cat's Paw Liability

On March 1, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held in Staub v. Proctor Hospital (.pdf) that an employer can be held liable for employment discrimination claims based upon the bias of a supervisor who influenced, but did not make the final employment decision. The Court struck down a narrow version of this so-called “cat’s paw” argument, under which the employer could be held liable only if the biased supervisor exerted a “singular influence” over the ultimate employment decision. It is clear that this ruling will apply broadly to cases including claims of retaliation and interference under the FMLA. Unfortunately, the Court’s decision provides little guidance for employers as to what steps they can take to avoid liability for “cat’s paw” claims.

U.S. Supreme Court rules that the "Cat's Paw" theory can create liability for discrimination.

he U.S. Supreme Court has held, by unanimous opinion, that an employer may be held liable for employment discrimination under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) based on the “discriminatory animus” of an employee who influenced, but did not make, an ultimate employment decision. In interpreting the so-called "cat's paw" theory of liability, the Court declined to adopt the approach suggested by the employer: that a decision-maker's independent investigation and rejection of an employee's allegations of discriminatory animus should negate the effect of any prior discrimination in subsequent actions against that employee. Instead, the Court held that "if a supervisor performs an act motivated by antimilitary animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an adverse employment action, and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action, then the employer is liable under USERRA."

Supreme Court Holds That Company May Be Liable For The Discriminatory Motives Of Non-Decision Makers

On March 1, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an employer may be liable for the discriminatory motives of a supervisor who influences but does not make the ultimate employment decision. The Court's ruling will impact employment discrimination claims where multiple individuals are claimed to have made, caused, or influenced the ultimate employment decision.

With a Friend Like Justice Scalia...Cat's Paw Decision Not Very Employer Friendly

Although viewed as one of THE most conservative justices, I am not sure anyone who is very knowledgeable about employment law relishes the idea of Judge Scalia writing the majority opinion in an employment law case. If they did before this term, their view would be strongly challenged by today's decision in Staub v. Proctor (S.Ct. 3.1.11) [pdf] and coupled with his earlier opinion in Thompson v. North American Stainless, should readily disabuse them of that notion.
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