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U.S. Supreme Court 2010-11

Staub v. Proctor Hospital: A Case About Job Discrimination

Can a biased employee engineer a colleague's firing?

The Court is considering under what circumstances an employer can be held liable when a lower-level manager causes — but does not carry out — a discriminatory employment decision.

The case was brought by Vincent Staub, who alleges that he was illegally fired from his job as an angiography technician in 2004 because of his service in the U.S. Army Reserve. Staub’s immediate supervisor had openly denigrated his military duties and placed him on weekend work rotations that conflicted with his scheduled drill and training obligations.

Eventually, his supervisor influenced the hospital’s human-resources department to fire him.

What’s at stake. As in this term's Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP case, the Court’s decision is certain to apply to other federal antidiscrimination laws. Age discrimination complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have been rising for the past several years and hit an all-time high of 24,582 in fiscal 2008. Complaints about other forms of discrimination have also been on the rise.

Where AARP stands. AARP has sided with Staub and believes that the court’s decision is certain to be applied to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal antidiscrimination laws.

How the Court Ruled

In a unanimous decision issued on March 1, the Court handed Staub a victory by throwing out the federal appeals court ruling that favored the hospital where he worked.

The decision will make it easier for individuals to sue private employers for discrimination based on hostility to their military service.
The Court's opinion (PDF), written by Justice Antonin Scalia, holds that "if a supervisor performs an act motivated by antimilitary animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an adverse employment action, and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action, then the employer is liable under USERRA [the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act]."

Time will tell the ruling's impact on other job discrimination laws.

Staub's case now goes back to the appeals court, which must decide whether to reinstate a jury verdict in his favor or order a new trial.

Next: Can a company retaliate against the friends or family of an employee who filed a discrimination suit?

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