Supreme Court Ponders “Cat’s Paw” Liability - High Court Leaves Important Questions Unanswered

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“Cat’s paw” liability arises when a well-intentioned employer acts on the recommendation of an employee intending to unlawfully discriminate against another. “In such a case, the recommender [uses] the decisionmaker as a mere conduit, or ‘cat’s paw’ to give effect to the recommender’s discriminatory animus.” Crawford v. Carroll, 529 F. 3d 961, 979 n. 21 (11th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted) Traditionally, an employer escapes “cat’s paw” liability by demonstrating that it conducted an independent investigation and did not simply rubberstamp the discriminating employee’s decisions.

On March 1, 2011, in an 8-0 decision (with Justice Kagan abstaining), the United States Supreme Court injected some uncertainty in defending against those claims. Staub v. Proctor Hospital, 562 U.S. ___ (2011).

Staub v. Proctor Hospital

Vincent Staub sued his former employer alleging his discharge violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, 38 U.S.C. § 4301 et seq. (USERRA).

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