EJS Joins Lawyers’ Committee in Filing Brief with U.S. Supreme Court in Staub v. Proctor Hospital

The Equal Justice Society joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and AARP in filing an amicus brief (PDF available for download here) in the Supreme Court of the United States supporting the petitioner in Staub v. Proctor Hospital.  The brief urges the Court to recognize employer liability for the unlawful bias of a supervisor if the bias was a significant motivating factor for an adverse employment practice, even if the ultimate decisionmaker – someone other than the supervisor — harbored no discriminatory motive toward the employee.  This is an important question that Justice Alito also raised in the recent Supreme Court decision, Ricci v. DeStefano, but that has not yet been resolved.

The petitioner, Vincent Staub, a member of the Army Reserves, was a hospital technician at Proctor Hospital for fourteen years until his dismissal in 2004, which he argues was motivated by discrimination based on his military status.  Multiple supervising officials were hostile towards Staub for his involvement in the military and although the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit acknowledged that “there can be little dispute that… [Staub’s supervisor] didn’t like Staub, and that part of this animus flowed from his membership in the military,” the Court refused to recognize the animosity of nondecisionmakers, such as Staub’s supervisor, without a showing of “singular influence” over the ultimate decisionmaker, a different official who was responsible at the last stage for handing Staub his pink slip.

While singular influence could include concealing or fabricating relevant information given to the person who ultimately makes the decision to dismiss an employee, the Court stated that it would not matter if the information came from a potentially biased source as long as the decisionmaker appeared to conduct her own independent investigation.

By focusing on the ultimate decisionmaker, standards such as the one applied by the Court in Staub effectively legalize unlawful action in all phases of the decision-making process except the last stage.  The amicus brief argues that a “motivating factor” standard should be applied in cases like these, similar to what is used in other cases involving protection against discrimination, like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Just as Title VII protects against discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, or ethnicity, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) at issue in this case protects against discrimination on the basis of military status.  Recognizing employer liability for adverse employment actions motivated by unlawful animus on the part of supervisors is important to prevent discrimination that may be occurring behind-the-scenes.  To fully carry out the purposes of USERRA and Title VII, the whole employment process should be free from bias.

The law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP and the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic at Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law provided pro bono assistance.

2 thoughts on “EJS Joins Lawyers’ Committee in Filing Brief with U.S. Supreme Court in Staub v. Proctor Hospital

  1. Same thing has been going on with me at my City Government employer. My boss told me to my face he did not like the fact that the US Navy was calling me on orders so often. My boss told me I have to prioritize my City job first. He has now begun to lie about my performance and has enlisted another manager to help him with his dirty work. Everyone I work with knows that he has been singling me out and treats my performance harsher than anyone else. I complained to HR and they investigated. All of my coworkers told me they stated to the investigator how bad I was treated when I returned from my orders. I have several witnesses to actions and statements made by these two managers. HR did nothing and ruled it was unfounded. Lawyers I talked to said that I would have to be fired and only then could they would go after them for wrongful termination. It’s not very comforting to know that your employer wants to get you out because of your service to the country that allows them to exist. I have temporarily fixed the problem on my own by being on one year orders again in the Middle East. It’s a very sad commentary, to which a service member would rather be in a combat zone then working with his own City back home! It makes me sick, not to mention being away from my wife for the third mobilization to this region

  2. Same thing has been going on with me at my City Government employer. My boss told me to my face he did not like the fact that the US Navy was calling me on orders so often. My boss told me I have to prioritize my City job first. He has now begun to lie about my performance and has enlisted another manager to help him with his dirty work. Everyone I work with knows that he has been singling me out and treats my performance harsher than anyone else. I complained to HR and they investigated. All of my coworkers told me they stated to the investigator how bad I was treated when I returned from my orders. I have several witnesses to actions and statements made by these two managers. HR did nothing and ruled it was unfounded. Lawyers I talked to said that I would have to be fired and only then could they would go after them for wrongful termination. It’s not very comforting to know that your employer wants to get you out because of your service to the country that allows them to exist. I have temporarily fixed the problem on my own by being on one year orders again in the Middle East. It’s a very sad commentary, to which a service member would rather be in a combat zone then working with his own City back home! It makes me sick, not to mention being away from my wife for the third mobilization to this region

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