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BYU Law Review

Abstract

Federal employment discrimination law is enamored with court-created doctrines with catchy names. A fairly recent addition to the canon is the concept of the “cat’s paw,” formally recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in Staub v. Proctor Hospital. With its name … drawn from a fable, the concept of cat’s paw has taken ground quickly, discussed in hundreds of cases.

The Supreme Court recognized the cat’s paw theory in a case where a hospital fired a worker. The person who made the ultimate decision did not have impermissible bias. However, her decision was influenced by information from two supervisors who arguably did possess such bias. The Court held that “if a supervisor performs an act motivated by [impermissible] 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.” Since then, courts have applied cat’s paw analysis under a wide range of federal statutes including Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and others.

This Article argues that the cat’s paw doctrine is a mistake, and the courts should abolish it.

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