(press release: cdklawyers)
Although it may be tempting for a company to trust its front-line managers to make prudent decisions regarding the discharge of employees, Keith Clouse, a Dallas employment law attorney, believes employers should always conduct independent reviews of any proposed termination. Doing so may avoid “cat’s paw” liability.
Cat’s paw liability refers to a situation where a biased manager without decision-making authority influences a company’s decision-maker to make an adverse employment decision. (The theory takes its name from a fable in which a monkey convinces a cat to scoop chestnuts from a hot fire. The cat burns its paws, and the monkey eats all the chestnuts.) Under this theory, a former employee may prevail in a discrimination lawsuit even if the employer establishes that its decision-maker did not act in a discriminatory manner (or even know that the affected employee belonged to a protected class) because the front-line manager’s discriminatory bias can be imputed to the employer.
To avoid cat’s paw liability, a company’s decision-maker (usually a senior manager or human resources officer) should conduct an independent investigation prior to making an adverse employment decision. Instead of simply relying upon information provided by a front-line manager, the decision-maker should interview witnesses, review relevant documents and, of course, speak to the affected employee.