Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Cat's Paw Theory Fares Better in First Circuit

We recently reported here on the 4th Circuit's en banc decision to not follow the line of so called cat's paw theory cases, where the machinations of a non-decision maker supervisor with illegal motives influenced the ultimate employment action holding
In sum, to survive summary judgment, an aggrieved employee who rests a discrimination claim under Title VII or the ADEA upon the discriminatory motivations of a subordinate employee must come forward with sufficient evidence that the subordinate employee possessed such authority as to be viewed as the one principally responsible for the decision or the actual decision maker for the employer.
Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Management (4th Cir. 1/5/04) [pdf].

But given a similar option, a three judge panel of the First Circuit takes a different route, following the line cat's paw line of cases from other circuits, without using that colorful termination. Holding that if in fact a vice-president, who had made age related comments concerning the plaintiff, had withheld information about a key issue from the three senior level members of Hertz management who had made the actual termination decision, that the decision would be impermissibly tainted with his bias. Cariglia v. Hertz Rental Equipment Corp. (1st Cir. 4/5/04) [pdf].

And for those of you, like me, who wondered at the derivation of this phrase, someone else did as well and a full report on the phrase as used in discrimination law can be found here. But here's the gist of it:
It seems that although cats in mythology and folklore are generally portrayed as wily, clever, resourceful and sophisticated, the story behind "cat's paw" is an exception to the rule, and not one that any self-respecting cat would want on his resume. An ancient fable tells the story of a monkey who came upon some chestnuts roasting in a fire. Lacking the means to retrieve the tasty chestnuts from the fire, the clever monkey managed to convince a somewhat dim cat to reach into the flames with his paw and fetch them. The monkey got his chestnuts, the cat was rewarded with a nasty hotfoot, and a metaphor for "chump" was born. While the original "cat's paw" was someone who is tricked into doing something dangerous or foolish on behalf of someone else, the term has broadened somewhat over the years...

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