When the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, whose decisions cover Illinois, began acknowledging the “cat’s paw” theory of discrimination, it appeared to open employers to greater liability.
The term derives from a French fable penned by Jean de LaFontaine (1621-1695) titled “The Monkey and the Cat,” in which a clever but unscrupulous monkey persuades a cat to pull chestnuts from a fire for the monkey to eat. The cat burns its paws, while the monkey enjoys the chestnuts. In legal circles, the concept explains what happens when someone manipulates a decision-maker to commit discrimination.
In this case, Vincent Staub, an angiographic technician at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, used the theory to successfully convince a jury that the anti-military prejudice of one supervisor, Janice Mulally (the monkey), influenced another, Linda Buck (the cat), to terminate him. Staub alleged Mulally had bemoaned to Buck that Staub’s Army Reserve duty commitments were playing havoc with her department’s work schedule. A jury awarded him $57,640.
The hospital appealed, claiming the jury instructions allowed jurors to infer too much from Mulally’s statements and their impact on the department’s scheduling.
The appeals court ruled that, despite Mulally’s attitude, the decision was ultimately Buck’s, and she harbored no discriminatory sentiments about military service.