Fenwick Employment Brief - March 14, 2011


In this issue: U.S. Supreme Court Validates "Cat's Paw" Theory of Liability; California Courts Continue to Scrutinize Mandatory Employment Arbitration Agreements; Failure to Provide Meal and Rest Periods Subject California Employers to Double Wage; and more...

Excerpt from "U.S. Supremem Court Validates...":

In a troubling decision for employers, the United States Supreme Court has endorsed the so-called “cat’s paw” doctrine of employment discrimination. Under the “cat’s paw” doctrine – named for a fable in which a monkey flatters a cat into extracting roasted chestnuts from an open fire and results in the cat burning its paws in the process – an employer may be held liable for the discriminatory animus of a supervisor who influenced, but did not make, the adverse employment decision.

Staub v. Proctor Hospital involved a claim of military status discrimination in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”). Vincent Staub, a medical imaging technician and Army Reservist, alleged that his two supervisors were hostile to his military obligations and were out to “get rid of him.” Mr. Staub claimed that one of his supervisors improperly disciplined him for leaving his work area and issued him a written directive to check in with his supervisors when he was not working with patients, and that the other supervisor falsely reported to the VP of Human Resources that Mr. Staub subsequently violated the written directive. The VP of Human Resources (the “cat’s paw”), relying upon the reported violation and her own review of Mr. Staub’s personnel file, made the decision to terminate Mr. Staub. Despite Mr. Staub’s insistence that the violation was fabricated and that his supervisors were improperly motivated by hostility towards his military obligations, the VP of Human Resources did not follow up with Mr. Staub’s supervisors to investigate further. Mr. Staub subsequently filed a lawsuit under USERRA, claiming that his supervisors (but not the decision-maker) were motivated by hostility to his military obligations, and that their actions unlawfully influenced the termination decision.

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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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