U.S. Supreme Court Grabs Cat's Paw

There goes Justice Scalia again, ruling for... employees!  Writing for a 6-2 majority, Justice Scalia says:

When the company official who makes the decision to take an adverse employment action is personally acting out of hostility to the employee’s membership in or obligation to a uniformed service, a motivating factor obviously exists. The problem we confront arises when that official has nodiscriminatory animus but is influenced by previous company action that is the product of a like animus in someone else.
Basically, two lower level supervisors were hostile towards Vincent Staub, an xray tech at a hospital. they were annoyed at his reserve duty, which caused absences that had to be covered.  As a reservist, Staub was entitled to job protection under USERRA.  USERRA protects against discrimination against members of the military, basically under the same standards as Title VII.  Thus, if anti-military bias is a "motivating factor" in a negative employment decision, the plaitniff can win.

Here, a non-biased manager fired Staub, but based on a report by the biased supervisors.  The hospital argued that discrimination was therefore not a motivating reason.   This presented a "cat's paw" theory, where the employer claims that the innocent supervisor's decision is independent from the biased supervisor's motivations.

The Supreme Court held:
that if a supervisor performs an act motivated by anti military animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an adverse employment action,3 and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action, then the employer is liable under USERRA

The court did say that the biased supervisor has to have some causation for the negative employment decision or the "motivating reason" standard fails.

Bonus: Those of us unfamiliar with Aesop now know the meaning of the "Cat's Paw" theory.

1The term “cat’s paw” derives from a fable conceived by Aesop, put into verse by La Fontaine in 1679, and injected into United States employment discrimination law by Posner in 1990. See Shager v. Upjohn Co., 913 F. 2d 398, 405 (CA7). In the fable, a monkey induces a cat by flattery to extract roasting chestnuts from the fire. After the cat has done so, burning its paws in the process, the monkey makes offwith the chestnuts and leaves the cat with nothing. A coda to the fable (relevant only marginally, if at all, to employment law) observes that the cat is similar to princes who, flattered by the king, perform serviceson the king’s behalf and receive no reward.

Although this is a USERRA case, given the similiarities with anti-discrimination laws, look for this theory to be applied in Title VII cases as well

The case is Staub v. Proctor Hosp. and the opinion is here.