The Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in the case of Staub v. Proctor Hospital, No. 09-400.
For over a decade, Vincent Staub worked as an angiography technologist at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, Illinois. Staub testified that he was subjected to belittling behavior from his supervisor during the course of his employment because of his Army Reservist duties.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act protects service members’ right to reemployment when they are called away from their jobs to perform official military duty.
On April 20, 2004, Staub was fired from his position on the grounds that he failed to heed previous warnings issued by the hospital. However, Staub contends he was fired due to the powerful influence his supervisor had over the hospital’s human resource representative. This is what is known as the “cat’s paw” theory.
Tully Rincky Attorney Matthew Estes says that the case will help define an employer’s liability when another management official who is responsible for influencing the ultimate decision maker to take the discriminatory action hides behind closed doors. “The Supreme Court’s decision on the “cat’s paw” theory could have a tremendous impact on all discrimination cases, including those brought under discrimination statutes other than USERRA” he said. “If the Supreme Court affirms the theory’s legality, then anyone who believes that reasons given for a disciplinary or adverse action were merely a smokescreen to hide the true discriminatory intent of the management official directing another to take such action will now have the opportunity to prove their claim of discrimination against the employer.”
While not completely eviscerating the “cat’s paw” doctrine, the Seventh Circuit in Staub enunciated a very narrow, pro-employer interpretation of the “singular influence” requirement.
What the Supreme Court may do is anybody’s guess, but given the Court’s current makeup it would seem likely that it will affirm the Seventh Circuit’s narrow interpretation of the “cat’s paw” doctrine, making it even more difficult for employees to establish discrimination.
For more information on Matthew Estes, go to http://tullylegal.com/attorneys/mestes.html