Friday, March 11, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court rules that human resources departments no longer insulate employers from discrimination claims

Jackson Walker LLP
Lionel M. Schooler and Courtney T. Carlson
March 3 2011

INTRODUCTION. On March 1, 2011, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Staub v. Proctor Hospital. Staub, a case brought under the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), is the first U.S. Supreme Court decision addressing the “cat’s paw” line of cases, that is, cases involving an adverse employment action which give the appearance that the action is being taken by a neutral party when in reality it is motivated, at least partly, by a biased supervisor.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND. Vincent Staub worked as an angiography technician at Proctor Hospital until 2004, when he was fired. While employed there, Staub was a member of the Army Reserve, which required him to attend training one weekend per month and to train full time for two to three weeks per year. His supervisors were hostile to his military obligations (i.e., scheduled him for additional shifts without notice as “pay back,” made comments that his military obligations amounted to “a bunch of smoking and joking,” and asked others to help “get rid of him.”). In January 2004, Staub’s immediate supervisor issued a “Corrective Action” disciplinary warning against him for allegedly violating a company rule requiring him to stay in his work area when not working with a patient. The directive required him to report to his supervisor when he had no patients and when his work was completed. Staub claimed the company had no such rule and, even if it did, he had not violated it.

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