Cat’s paw liability is the theory that when upper management elects disciplinary action, including terminations, based upon information provided by a lower level of management where the lower level manager took provided the information based on discriminatory animus, the discriminatory animus is inferred on upper management. Managers cannot use human resource procedures to discriminate in the workplace by having another level of management do the dirty deed. Think you have an employment discrimination or other employment law claim based on cat’s paw liability? Contact employment lawyers to discuss your claim.
Cat’s paw liability in employment discrimination or wrongful termination lawsuits
Let’s take an example. A Latino employee goes on corrective action for failing to meet performance goals by his manager. The manager has other non-Latino employees who also failed to meet performance goals but they were not written up and the manager put the Latino employee on corrective action because he believes Latinos are lazy and does not want them working for him. His director reviews corrective action in the department and sees this particular employee written up several times. The director, having no discriminatory motive and only looking at the personnel files, orders the Latino employee terminated.
If the Latino employee can prove discipline occurred because of his race rather than solely his employment, then the manager’s discrimination taints the director’s act. Even though the director did not act out of any discriminatory motive. Had the manager not written up the employee, the director would not have terminated the employee. In this example the manager is either consciously abusing the corrective action process, knowing it would result in termination, or was just using the corrective action as a weapon in its own right. Cat’s paw liability prevents the manager from getting away with discrimination because he did not execute the adverse action.
Why cat’s paw liability exists in FMLA, wrongful termination and employment discrimination lawsuits
It may seem that the courts created an unusual or unfair liability on upper management. There are two clear reasons why cat’s paw liability exists.
First, employers are liable for the acts of employees, including management, within the scope of their employment. Cat’s paw liability arises from management decisions, which is squarely within the scope of a manager’s duties. Cat’s paw liability closes a loophole where discrimination occurs in the workplace but the victim cannot recover. It cuts off the ability for a manager with unclean hands to use company’s procedures to do the dirty deed.
Second, it encourages management to manage itself. A business interested in rooting out discrimination and eliminating liability should establish procedures to oversee every level of management.
If your employer discriminated against you then you should seek an employment attorney right away.