U.S. Supreme Court Expands Cat’s Paw Theory of Liability in Discrimination Cases

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In a decision authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision today in Staub v. Proctor Hosp. (Mar. 1, 2011, No. 09-400) 562 U.S. ____ [2011 U.S. LEXIS 1900], holding that an employer may be liable for employment discrimination even where the decision maker had no discriminatory intent and was merely functioning as the “cat’s paw1” for a supervisor who did have such discriminatory intent. Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor joined in the decision; Justice Alito wrote a concurring opinion in which Justice Thomas joined, agreeing with the result reached by the majority but for a different reason. Justice Kagan did not participate.

In this closely watched employment discrimination case, the Court granted certiorari to address the question of whether an employer may be held liable in a “cat’s paw” situation, where an employee with unlawful intent influences the decision maker but is not involved in making the ultimate employment decision. The Court also accepted amicus curiae briefs from the American Association for Justice, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, and the Equal Employment Advisory Committee.

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