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.
Michael K. Furey authored article, "Is It Worth the Risk to Represent a Client Who Has Fired a Previous Attorney?," for the New Jersey Law Journal.
On February 26, Heather Weine Brochin will be speaking at "Weathering NJ's New Employment and Contracting Laws," a seminar presented by the New Jersey Builders Association (NJBA) and held in Robbinsville, NJ.
On January 7, Francine Esposito presented a live webinar, "FMLA Leave Is Exhausted: How to Address Transfer and ADA Accommodation Requests, Fitness-for-Duty Exams, and More," sponsored by BLR.
Mark Romance authored an article, "Five Tips for Representing a Non-Party Served with a Document Subpoena: Welcome to the Party?," published by the American Bar Association Section of Litigation.
On October 24, Heather Weine Brochin and Mike Dell will present a webcast, titled "2019: A Year of Dramatic Changes for Mandatory Employment Arbitration?" in partnership with Celesq and West LegalEdcenter/Thomson Reuters.
Day Pitney Managing Partner Thomas Goldberg was quoted in Hartford Business Journal article, "Hartford law firms see spike in COVID-19-related business."
Daniel Schwartz was quoted in Hunt Scanlon Media article, "Defending Against the Cancel Culture from the Inside Out."
Day Pitney Press Release
Day Pitney Press Release
Day Pitney's Michael Napoleone has been appointed to the Palm Beach County League of Cities board of directors.