Blog Archives

Lawsuits and Settlements
U.S. Supreme Court To Hear “Cat’s Paw” Case

The United States Supreme Court recently accepted certiorari in Staub v. Proctor Hospital (7th Cir. 2009), a case dealing with the “cat’s paw” theory of employer liability.  The “cat’s paw” theory provides that the discriminatory animus of a non-decisionmaker can be imputed to the decisionmaker, if the non-decisionmaker (a) has singular influence over the decisionmaker, and (b) uses that influence to cause an adverse employment action.

In Staub, the Plaintiff sued his former employer, alleging his was fired in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”).  He prevailed at trial by using the “cat’s paw” theory of liability.

On appeal to the Seventh Circuit, the issue was whether the trial court could allow the Plaintiff to present evidence of nondecisionmaker animus – in support of his  “cat’s paw” theory of liability – without first determining whether a reasonable jury could find “singular influence” on the evidence to be presented.  The appellate court ruled that the trial court failed to make this prior determination, and therefore erred by admitting the evidence of nondecision maker animus.

The Supreme Court has now accepted certiorari in this case and should be hearing the matter in the near future.

SES Seminar on Hiring and Firing in Today’s Economy

Earlier this month, I presented a seminar for Sterling Education Services on “Hiring and Firing Employees.”  I tailored the seminar to issues that are most prevalent in today’s current economy.

Hiring and terminations have always been two of the most important aspects of the employment process.  Whereas hiring the right employees can definitely enhance your workforce and increase profitability, hiring the wrong employees can oftentimes lead to disastrous results, such as poor productivity, workplace harassment, and unnecessary lawsuits.  In addition, there are several legal hurdles and pitfalls involved with the hiring process that employers need to avoid, such as inadvertently placing a job advertisement that could lead to a claim for discrimination.

Terminations are perhaps the most emotional and difficult part of the employment process.  Not only are terminations emotionally draining, but any misstep can lead to the former (and disgruntled) employees to file a lawsuit against your company.  The recent film, Up in the Air touched on a few of these issues.   Although the termination process can be emotionally and legally challenging, by knowing how to handle the process, it makes it a lot easier to go through.

With the current state of the economy, employment related lawsuits are on the rise.  As the economy worsens, people get more litigious.  Therefore, I recommend that all employers be very careful in the hiring and firing process, and consult their labor and employment attorneys when necessary.

EEOC’s 2009 Statistics

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently published its statistics for 2009.  The statistics reflect charges of employment discrimination and resolutions under the statutes enforced by the EEOC, and by the various types of discrimination.

Some notable statistics are as follows:

Total charges:  93,277
Monetary relief obtained:  $376 million
Charges based on race:  36%
Charges based on retaliation:  36%
Charges based on sex:  30%

Charges alleging discrimination based on disability and religion have hit a record high.  Charges alleging discrimination based on age reached the the second-highest level ever for such claims.

You can view all the statistics on the EEOC’s website here.

Outback Steakhouse Settles Discrimination Lawsuit For $19M

The Associated Press recently reported that Outback Steakhouse has agreed to pay $19M to settle a class-action lawsuit that was filed on behalf of thousands of the restaurant’s female employees.  The “glass-ceiling” lawsuit was filed by the EEOC and alleged that female employees were discriminatorily denied promotions to higher-level management positions and other favorable job assignments.

In addition to paying $19M, Outback is also required to launch an online application system for managerial positions, hire a human-resources executive, and employ an outside consultant who will be responsible for ensuring Outback complies with the terms of the settlement.

Outback representatives have stated that the settlement does not include a finding of fault by Outback and that the settlement proceeds were paid entirely by insurance funds.   Elizabeth Smith, Outback’s recently-appointed CEO (who is female), has been quoted as saying “There is no glass ceiling at [Outback] and we do not tolerate discrimination in any form.”

You can view the EEOC’s Press Release here.

Outback has seven restaurants in Hawaii.