On March 1, 2011, the United States Supreme Court held in Staub v. Proctor Hospital, No. 09-400, 2011 U.S. LEXIS 1900 (Mar. 1, 2011), that an employer can be held liable for discrimination where an adverse employment decision is influenced by a supervisor's discriminatory intent, even where the ultimate decision maker had no discriminatory animus. In Staub, the plaintiff sued his former employer under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 ("USERRA"), claiming that the human resources executive who fired him was merely the "cat's paw" of his direct supervisors, who had openly expressed anti-military sentiment. The Court found that if an action by a biased supervisor is the proximate cause of an employee's termination, then the employer can be held liable for discrimination, even if the ultimate decision maker had no discriminatory intent and was unaware of the supervisor's bias.
Although the Court allowed for the possibility that an employer could escape liability by conducting an independent investigation, it provided little guidance to employers regarding the circumstances under which such an investigation could insulate them. In this regard, the Court stated that "if the employer's investigation results in an adverse action for reasons unrelated to the supervisor's original biased action ... then the employer will not be liable. But the supervisor's biased report may remain a causal factor if the independent investigation takes it into account without determining that the adverse action was, apart from the supervisor's recommendation, entirely justified." Thus, the Court seemed to suggest that a jury can consider the actions and statements of an allegedly biased supervisor unless the employer can demonstrate that such supervisor played no role and had no input regarding the adverse employment action.
The rationale underlying the Supreme Court's decision presumably applies equally to discrimination claims brought under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal statutes prohibiting employment discrimination. The decision highlights the importance of training all supervisors with respect to their equal employment opportunity/non-discrimination obligations. It illustrates that biased or discriminatory input from even one supervisor can taint a disciplinary/termination process involving multiple supervisors and layers of review.
On August 15, Michael Dell will present a live webinar, "Top 10 Ways Supervisors and Managers Create Legal Risks for Your Workplace Under Federal Law," sponsored by BLR.
On July 11, partner Francine Esposito will present a live webinar, "FMLA Leave Is Exhausted: How to Address Transfer and ADA Accommodation Requests, Fitness-for-Duty Exams, and More," sponsored by BLR.
Heather Weine Brochin and Theresa Kelly authored Employee Privacy Laws: New Jersey, a Q&A guide published by Thomson Reuters Practical Law.
Theresa Kelly and Alba Aviles authored an article, "The Weighty Matter of Obesity in the Workplace," which was published in the May 2019 edition of Employee Benefit Plan Review.
On May 31, Francine Esposito will serve as the moderator and speak on a multi-national panel of attorneys on the topic of "Unions in the Workplace," at the 2019 Lex Mundi Labor and Employee and Employee Benefits and Pension Joint Practice Group Global Meeting in Boston.
Day Pitney Press Release
Gary Betensky and Michael Napoleone were featured in a profile, "Day Pitney LLP: Firm Expands to Better Serve South Florida Clients," published in the March issue of The Boca Raton Observer magazine.
Day Pitney associate Arianna Mouré was featured in an article, "Practicing Law and Contributing to the Greater Good," published in the Fall/Winter 2018 edition of the Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences Access Newsletter.
Heather Weine Brochin was quoted in an article, "Confidentiality Disqualifies Harassment Settlement Tax Deductions," published on the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) website.