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Best Ohio Wrongful Termination Attorney Answer: Can I hold my supervisor liable for discrimination if they are not the one who ultimately fired me? What is the Cat’s Paw Theory? How do I find the best employment discrimination lawyer in Ohio?

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Our employment discrimination lawyers are often confronted with the argument that the person that made the ultimate employment decision did not make the discriminatory comment; or was not the person accused of harassment; or did not even directly know the fired employee. This happens in race; religion; age; disability; gender; military status; and national origin discrimination cases. The employer argues, how could you be fired if the person making the decision did not know you or is not even accused of being racist, sexist or so on. If you do not look to deep into this argument, it can make sense on the surface. But, hey, our employment attorneys like to look beyond the surface and see what lies in the murky depths beneath.

So, what is the defense to this type of argument? It is called the Cat’s Paw Theory. What the heck does a cat have to do employment law? It all starts with a fable…

The “Cat’s Paw” Theory is a legal theory based upon an old fable where a monkey convinces a cat to reach into a fireplace to grab chestnuts from a fire. The cat, while doing the monkey’s bidding, unwittingly burns herself while the monkey enjoys the fruits of his deception, a delicious pile of chestnuts that were previously roasted on an open fire. The cat’s paw was a tool to fulfill the monkey’s purpose of getting chestnuts from the fire.

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Now that we have addressed the fable, let’s look at the law. In Staub v. Proctor Hospital, the United States Supreme Court held an employer can be held liable for the discriminatory intent of another employee who influenced, but ultimately did not make the employment decision. Essentially, the employer can still be liable when the boss or HR representative that fired the employee (the cat) does not have discriminatory motivation or intent, but is acting on the direction or instigation of another employee that did (the monkey).

In Staub, the employee was a member of the military and was called away periodically to fulfill his duties to the Reserves. During the time of employment, his co-workers would frequently schedule his shifts in conflict with his military duties. These employees/monkeys felt his duties to the military were a “strain on the department” and needed to find a way to get rid of him. These employees created a corrective action plan requiring Staub to notify them when he left his work area. Staub was then accused of leaving his work area and fired by a human resources officer. The human resources officer had no idea the action plan was created to fire Staub for serving in the military in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Service Act (“USERSA”).  USERSA prohibits an employer from denying “initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion, or any benefit of employment by an employer on the basis of that membership, . . . or obligation.” The court, extending the concept of proximate cause from traditional tort liability to the employment context, states that “so long as “the agent intends, for discriminatory reasons, that the adverse action occur, he has the scienter required to be liable under USERRA.”

What often happens in the workplace is a human resources officer or a boss in a higher position will make an adverse employment decision based upon the recommendations of your direct boss or supervisor. Your direct supervisor may provide a negative performance review or decide to forgo recommending a well deserved promotion because of a discriminatory reason such as your race, age, gender, disability, or military status such as the plaintiff in Staub. If you feel that your employer is making negative employment decisions due to the discriminatory intent of your supervisor or another co-worker, you may be able to pursue a claim against your employer for discrimination.

If you are searching “I need a lawyer because I have been wrongfully fired or terminated;” or “I have been discriminated against based on my …” race, national origin, gender, age, religion or disability; or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.


The materials available at the top of this page and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “How do I …”, “What should I do …,” “My boss discriminated against me because …” or “I was fired for …”, it would be best for to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular employment law issue or problem. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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