Quirky Question #287: “Cat’s Paw” Claims – How could an employer violate antidiscrimination laws, even though the decision-making manager has no discriminatory bias at all?
Question: We just went through a five-person layoff, and one of the individuals laid off (an African American) has hired a lawyer and is threatening to sue for racial discrimination. I have enormous confidence in the fairness of the individual manager making the layoff selections, and those selections were based on years of performance ratings. However, the lawyer hired by our ex-employee says that doesn’t matter, because the ex-employee’s direct supervisor was racially biased. He says that the bias of the direct supervisor taints the entire process and that the manager was merely a “cat’s paw.” Let’s assume for a moment that the direct supervisor is a little rough around the edges. Do we have a problem here, even though the manager is fair and unbiased? And what the heck is a “cat’s paw” anyway? Answer→