How To Avoid The Dreaded “Cat’s Paw” In Light Of Staub

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Many employers are scratching their heads about last week’s “cat’s paw” decision from the Supreme Court. The Court unanimously held that employers can be liable for decisions that were influenced by managers or supervisors who had unlawful motives. However, the decision was short on advice about how to avoid “cat’s paw” liability.

In this case, Vincent Staub sued Proctor Hospital under the United Services Employment and Reemployment Act (“USERRA”). He alleged that the human resources executive who fired him from his civilian job as a hospital technician was merely the “cat’s paw” for two of Staub’s direct supervisors, who were openly hostile to his obligations as a Army Reservist.

Staub was originally awarded $58,000 by the jury, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin) reversed that decision, holding that Staub had failed to show that the two biased supervisors exercised such “singular influence” over the final decisionmaker that the decision to terminate was in “blind reliance” on the biased supervisors. Thus, it held that the hospital was not liable for Staub’s termination. The Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit decision and remanded the case without reinstating the original verdict.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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