Investigate bias claims to declaw ‘cat’s paw’ — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Investigate bias claims to declaw ‘cat’s paw’

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It’s no secret: Some supervisors or managers harbor discriminatory prejudices. From your desk in HR, those sentiments may be hard to ferret out, simply because most people don’t broadcast their biases.

That’s one reason to make sure to have someone who’s not directly involved independently review every employment decision.

Here’s why:
A legal theory often referred to as the “cat’s paw” holds that an employer can be liable for hidden bias if it merely rubber stamps a subordinate’s discriminatory decision. By conducting an independent evaluation of the situation, you can cut off that liability.

Recent case: Abir Qamhiyah is a Palestinian woman who was born in Kuwait and practices Islam. When she was hired as a professor, the university told her she had to meet fundraising and publication goals in order to win tenure.

When a faculty committee later voted to deny tenure to Qamhiyah, she sued the university for discrimination. During her time at the university, she had complained that several Indian professors were biased against her, and the tenure committee included Indian professors.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her case. It reasoned that under the cat’s paw theory, the university could be liable for bias by committee members. However, since the university had independently and thoroughly reviewed the recommendation and came to the same conclusion, there was no liability. (Qamhiyah v. Iowa State, No. 08-2548, 8th Cir., 2009)

Final note: The term “cat’s paw” comes from a French fable 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 nuts. The term refers to what happens when a third party manipulates a decision-maker into discriminating.

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