Cat's Paw Theory Limited by 4th Circuit En Banc Decision
by Michael Fox
Nothing must be more satisfying to a district court judge who has granted summary judgment, seen it reversed by a 3 judge panel, than to have the en banc court affirm the decision. That is precisely what happens in Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Management, Inc. (4th Cir. 1/5/04) [pdf]. Here, the Court explored the ramifications of the mixed motive case following Costa, finding in this case it made no difference to the ultimate outcome. Additionally, it examined in detail the so called 'cats paw' line of cases, where the formal decision maker has only rubber stamped the decision of some one who has exhibited prejudice. Here the situation was different. The formal decision makers did not rubber stamp the decision, although there was input from a non-decision maker which could be considered biased. The gist of the decision is perhaps only slightly overstated by the dissent:
[T]he majority holds that when a biased subordinate with no decisionmaking authority exercises substantial influence over an employment decision, the subordinate’s bias cannot be imputed to the formal decisionmaker who acts for the employer. [internal cite omitted] This puts us at odds with virtually every other circuit, and it puts us at odds with the language of the statutes, which impose liability when an adverse employment decision is taken "because of" sex or age discrimination, see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1); 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). After today in this circuit, an employer is off the hook for a discriminatory employment decision that is motivated by the bias of a subordinate who lacks decisionmaking authority. That is wrong.
In reaching its conclusion, the Court declined to follow the recommendation of the EEOC which filed an amicus brief and "made her day" for District Judge Margaret Seymour, of the District Court of South Carolina.