The U.S. Supreme Court finally answered the long awaited question of whether the “Cat’s Paw” theory was a valid method of placing liability on a company for the discriminatory actions of a supervisor that results in an adverse action against an employee by a higher supervisor who had no personal discriminatory animus. And, the answer was a resounding “Yes”. On March 1, 2011, the Court handed down the opinion in Staub v Proctor Hospital. The Court held that if a supervisor’s discriminatory act is motivated by illegal discrimination (in this case it involved the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994) to cause an adverse employment action, and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action, then the employer is liable. In this case, the two supervisors of the employee were hostile to the military and plaintiff’s involvment in the military reserves. The plaintiff was fired by a supervisor above the two hostile supervisors. The company claimed that the terminating supervisor was not hostile toward the military and did not know that the write ups he considered for the termination were motivated by the lower supervisors’ hostility. The Court upheld the “Cat’s Paw” theory that if the terminating supervisor utilizes the discriminatorily motivated input from the lower supervisors, the company is liable for the ultimate harm. This will be so, even if the terminating supervisor does an independent investigation, as long as the discriminatory information is used as part of his decision. The Court’s holding stated: “we therefore hold 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 the USERRA.” Based on this decision, it is virtually certain that the Cat’s Paw theory will be applicable beyond just USERRA suits, in Title VII actions, because it has been utilized extensively by other lower courts in these other employment discrimination suits.
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