Academic journal article Labor Law Journal

Staub V. Proctor Hospital: Cat's Paw Decision Expands Potential for Employer Liability

Academic journal article Labor Law Journal

Staub V. Proctor Hospital: Cat's Paw Decision Expands Potential for Employer Liability

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

In March of 2011, the U. S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that could have huge ramifications for employers involved in discrimination litigation. Staub v. Proctor Hospital· involved a claim based on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act [USERRA],2 which is violated if an employee's service membership was a motivating factor in an adverse employment action taken against him, unless the employer proves that it would have taken the action absent such membership.3 Contrary to the conclusion reached by several courts of appeal in non-US ERRA cases, the Court, in an opinion byjustice Scalia for a 6-2 majority,4 held that the act may be violated if the agent who took the adverse action had no discriminatory animus but was influenced by a supervisor(s) who did.5

Staub has been called a cat's paw case.6 The term derives from a fable in which a monkey induced a cat to snatch chestnuts from a fire; the cat burned its paws while the monkey made off with the nuts, leaving the cat with nothing.7 The term made its way into the law in a 1990 case;8 as understood today, a cat's paw is a tool, one used by another to accomplish his goals.9 Staub argued that two superiors disliked his service as an Army Reservist and got him fired by a third party who had no anti-military animus but relied on false information they gave her.

The facts of Staub are complicated and the parties' versions differ greatly. This article sets forth only the most relevant facts and discusses the discrepancies only insofar as is necessary to shed light on some aspect of the decision. Because a jury found for Staub, Scalia described the facts in the light most favorable to him, and this article does so as well.10 In the end, however, although the Court reversed the appellate court holding that Proctor was entitled to judgment as a matter of law, it remanded the case to that court to decide whether to reinstate the jury verdict or to grant Proctor a new trial.11 On May 23, the court did the latter.12 In that trial, different fact conclusions may be reached and a different outcome is possible.

This article reviews the facts, lower court proceedings, parties' theories in the Supreme Court, and some important features of the November, 2010, oral arguments before the Court. It discusses the Scalia opinion and speculates about how future cases might be decided. Finally, it asserts that Staub will apply in cases involving other discrimination laws. Because, as Scalia observed, the language of USERRA parallels that of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which states that race, color, religion, sex, or national origin may not be a motivating factor in an employment practice,13 Staub will apply in cases involving that act. It will not, by contrast, apply in cases arising under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA.)14 As for Title VII retaliation claims and cases involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA,)15 Staub will apply in some circuits but not others.

IL Background

A. Facts

Staub worked as an angiography technician for Proctor Hospital. As a veteran Reservist, he had to attend drill one weekend per month and train full time for two or three weeks a year. Proctor had fired Staub in 1998 for refusing to work past his scheduled shift, but after filing a grievance he was reinstated with conditions. He had to tell his supervisor when he left his work area and was warned that insubordination or unprofessionalism could lead to dismissal.16

In 2000, Mulally, second in command of the Diagnostic Imaging Department, began preparing department work schedules. Before she took over, Staub had weekends off, but she put him back in the weekend rotation, creating conflicts with his drill schedule. She did this, although she knew of his military obligations, and when he approached her about the issue, she threw him out of her office. Staub went to department head Korenchuk, and after he talked with Mulally she occasionally changed Staub's schedule, but she often posted a notice on the bulletin board saying that volunteers were needed to cover the drill weekends; this portrayed Staub as irresponsible. …

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