An Aesop Fable Might Help You in Your Employment Law Claim

The cat’s paw legal theory has helped numerous employees prevail in court after being unjustly terminated. To understand how and why courts have found in favor of employees due to the cat’s paw theory, you need to know the moral of the story behind “The Monkey and the Cat,” an adapted Aesop fable. 

The Story of the Monkey and the Cat

A monkey and cat are sitting around a fire in the process of roasting chestnuts. The monkey begins to realize there is no good way to remove the chestnuts. So, the monkey convinces the cat to remove the chestnuts from the fire with her bare hands, promising the cat that both will enjoy the feast. As the cat removes the chestnuts one by one—burning her paws in the process—the monkey eats every last one.

The moral of the story? Do not let someone else use you for their dirty work. Now, what does this have to do with employment law? 

The Cat’s Paw Legal Theory

Employers who terminate employees based on information provided to them by the employee’s supervisor could be held liable if the termination is found to be unjust. In other words, the manager ultimately responsible for hiring and firing must conduct their own investigation into alleged wrongdoing before making any employment decisions.

To better understand the cat’s paw theory, it is worth looking at a Supreme Court decision from 2011. In this case, Staub V. Proctor Hospital, a former hospital employee was disciplined multiple times for leaving his work area when he was not allowed to do so. The employee left his work area in order to fulfill his military obligations. The supervisors reported these “offenses” up the hospital’s chain of command and the employee was ultimately fired. 

The employee sued under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which is a federal law prohibiting employment discrimination based on an employee’s military status. After going through several courts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the employee. The Court found that: 

  • The employee’s actions were protected by the USERRA;
  • The supervisors were hostile to the employee’s military service and were motivated by animus to report the employee’s workplace absences; and 
  • The employer improperly relied on the supervisor’s reports to fire the employee. 

Ultimately, the decision-maker did not conduct their own thorough investigation into the employee’s alleged wrongdoing. Although the hospital’s decision-maker did look over other files related to the fired employee, the Court found that the decision-maker relied too much on the biased supervisor’s reports. In other cases, the cat’s paw theory has been upheld even if the employee’s actions did violate company policy. As long as the supervisor reported the employee with the intent to do harm, the employee has a good chance of winning thanks to the cat’s paw theory. 

If you are an employee, the bottom line is that the whole company does not have to discriminate against you in order for you to win your case. If a supervisor wants you gone, and the company does not conduct its own investigation after it receives the supervisor’s report, the cat’s paw theory might help you. No matter what, you need quality legal representation if you believe your workplace has treated you unfairly. Proving that your employer acted unlawfully can be difficult, and the legal process can be complicated. Carla D. Aikens, PLC helps workers get justice through aggressive and smart legal representation. Call our team to schedule a free initial consultation.

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