Wyatt Employment Law Report

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Supreme Court Decides “Cat’s Paw” Case Brought Under USERRA

By Edwin S. Hopson

On March 1, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Staub v. Proctor Hospital, 562 U.S. ____, No. 09-400 (March 1, 2011).  While employed by Proctor Hospital, Vincent Staub was also in the U. S. Army Reserves. Staub’s immediate supervisor  and her boss were openly hostile to Stuab’s obligations as an Army Reservist. Staub received a corrective action from his supervisor and, after receiving a report that Staub had violated the corrective action, the hospital’s human resources manager fired Staub. Staub complained that his discharge was on account of his being a Reservist but the HR manager refused to change the decision. Staub filed suit against the hospital under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), claiming his discharge was on account of his status as an Army Reservist.  Specifically, Staub claimed that his membership in the U.S. Army Reserves was a motivating factor in his discharge and that the supervisors were motivated by hostility to his military obligations and they influenced the HR manager to take the adverse action.  A jury found for Staub and awarded damages against the hospital.  However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the hospital was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the HR manager had relied on more than the supervisors’ recommendation in making the decision to discharge Staub.  Applying the so-called “cat’s paw” theory first espoused by Judge Posner in 1990, the Seventh Circuit reasoned that it was enough that the decision maker was not wholly dependent on a single source of information and had conducted her own investigation into the facts surrounding the events leading to Staub’s discharge.

 The High Court reversed the Seventh Circuit in an opinion by Justice Scalia, joined in by all but Justice Kagan who took no part in the case, and held:

 “… that if a supervisor performs an act motivated by antimilitary animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an adverse employment action,  and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action, then the employer is liable under USERRA. Slip Opinion, page 10 (footnotes omitted).” Continue reading

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Veterans Reemployment Rights Refresher

By Latoi D. Mayo

USERRA litigation is quickly becoming an emerging issue in the employment arena.  Whether returning from combat or other military service, increasing numbers of service members are actively protecting their employment rights under the federal law providing for reemployment rights of veterans and returning service members-the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The law allows an employee to enforce his or her rights by filing a court action directly, without filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor.  A court may order an employer to compensate a prevailing claimant for lost wages or benefits. USERRA allows for liquidated damages for “willful” violations.

USERRA is intended to minimize the disadvantages to an individual that occur when that person needs to be absent from his or her civilian employment to serve in this country’s uniformed services. USERRA covers virtually every individual in the country who serves in or has served in the uniformed services and applies to all employers in the public and private sectors, including Federal employers. Continue reading