Just a Lawyer in Lincoln's Hometown

December 7, 2012

Cats Paw: YouMust Investigate

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chuck @ 1:32 pm

As I have seen a flurry of “cats paw” cases, I thought I would explore Staub v. Proctor Hospital, 131 S. Ct. 1186; 179 L. Ed. 2d 144 (2011), a US Supreme Court decision that established, finally, the so called cats paw theory as a permanent part of discrimination jurisprudence. The cats paw theory, oversimplified, holds that an employer is liable for discrimination even if the person making the ultimate employment decision is not motivated by discrimination, when that person is relying upon someone else who is.

So, when an HR professional makes a decision to terminate an employee based upon the recommendation of that person’s supervisor, that professional needs to conduct a thorough investigation of the supervisor’s allegations. If it appears that the supervisor maybe motivated by something other than that set forth in the recommendation, such as a dislike of the employee’s participation in military service (as was the case in Staub), an even deeper investigation maybe required.

If the HR professional merely accepts the recommendation for termination without investigation, and if the recommendation for termination was motivated at least in part by an illegal bias, the company may be liable for an illegal termination. So good faith at the top is no longer an insulation from liability. The good faith must extend from the employees through the decision maker. This means investigatory skills are now a prime part of the skill set needed in HR. If those investigatory skills are not a part of the HR system of your business, either hire someone with them or contact an attorney who does have them.

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