The United States Supreme Court recently unanimously issued a major victory for employees under “USERRA“, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, 38 U.S.C. § 4301 et seq., on the “cat’s paw” theory in employment discrimination claims. The decision was in Staub v. Proctor Hospital, — U.S. — (March 1, 2011) (opinion at Google Scholar). Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for the unanimous court. Justice Alito wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment, which Justice Thomas joined. Justice Kagan did not participate in the decision.
What is the “Cat’s Paw” Scenario?
So, what the heck is the “cat’s paw” theory? Does it explain why my cat, pictured at the left, is staring so intently at you?
First, to define “cat’s paw” in a non-legal context, the Webster’s Online dictionary defines a “cat’s paw” as: “A person used by another to gain an end.” The term arises out of a fable in which a a shrewd monkey tricks a cat into pulling roasting chestnuts out of a fire—the cat gets its paw burned, and the monkey gets the chestnuts and scampers away unhurt.
Continue reading US Supreme Court Rules for Employee on “Cat’s Paw” Theory
Ellen Simon, an attorney in Cleveland who authors the excellent blog, Ellen Simon’s Employee Rights Post, recently tried an age discrimination claim for plaintiff Gloria Parks (a phlebotomist) against Cleveland’s University Hospitals Case Medical Center.
Ms. Parks had worked for the hospital for 30 years when she was fired over a medical mistake involving herself and another much younger employee. The hospital fired Ms. Parks, but not the much younger employee.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff (Ms. Parks) for $450,000 for her economic loss and $450,000 for “other compensatory damages”, according to Ms. Simon’s blog article. Based on the limited information I have so far, it looks like the “other compensatory damages” was an award for emotional distress, The jury did not award punitive damages.
So the verdict totals $900,000, and Ms. Simon will file a request for attorneys’ fees‘ fees and expenses. While it is not clear from the article so far, I suspect the case was asserted for age discrimination under Ohio’s Fair Employment Practices Act (and not the federal ADEA).
Continue reading Cleveland jury awards $900,000 against hospital in age discrimination case
February 26, 2008: The United States Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn, 128 S. Ct. 1140 (2008) (FindLaw site opinion). The issue in this federal age discrimination case (ADEA) was whether the plaintiff could present evidence to the jury about other alleged older discrimination victims, where the decision made to terminate the other individuals was not made by the same decision-maker that terminated the plaintiff.
The employer (Sprint) contended that evidence of other alleged age discrimination victims was not admissible where the decision-makers for those other victims were different from the decision-makers who took action against the plaintiff.
The Supreme Court rejected the employer’s argument and said that the evidence of other victims might be admissible, even if different decision-makers were involved. The trial court should conduct a “balancing test” for admissibility of discrimination against other employees by different supervisors, where the relevance of the other employees’ situation is balanced against unfair prejudice to the employer.