Yesterday, a panel of the Sixth Circuit announced its decision in Lewis v. Humboldt Acquisition Corp, an ADA case in which the court upheld the position of prior panels requiring an ADA plaintiff to establish that his or her disability was the “sole reason” motivating an adverse employment action. As Mark J. Chumley of the excellent Management Rights Blog noted yesterday, this puts the Sixth Circuit in the distinct minority of the appellate courts to consider the standard of proof on causation in an ADA case:

“Of the ten circuits to consider the causation issue, eight apply a ‘motivating factor’ (or ‘substantial cause’) test, under which a plaintiff must only show that a disability was a motivating factor of the adverse employment action.

However, the current law in the Sixth Circuit is that a plaintiff must show that his or her disability was the ‘sole reason’ for the adverse employment action; this is sometimes referred to as the ‘solely’ standard.”

Continue Reading Cat’s Paw Declawed In Sixth Circuit ADA Cases?

In a scenario that frequently occurs in workplaces across the country, Linda Buck, the vice president of human resources at Proctor Hospital, was asked to terminate Vincent Staub based on information contained in a report from his supervisors that accused him of violating the terms of a “corrective action” disciplinary warning. Relying on this accusation and her own review of Mr. Staub’s personnel file, Ms. Buck decided to terminate Mr. Staub’s employment. Mr. Staub protested to Ms. Buck that his supervisors were hostile to his military obligations as a member of the U.S. Army reserves, but rather than follow up on Mr. Staub’s concern with his supervisors, Ms. Buck simply conferred with another human resources staff member and adhered to her termination decision. Mr. Staub sued Proctor under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”) claiming that his discharge was motivated by hostility to his obligations as a military reservist. His contention was not that Ms. Buck had any such hostility but that his supervisors did, and that their actions influenced Ms. Buck’s ultimate employment decision. (This type of case has been referred to as a "Cat’s Paw" case, based on an Aesop’s fable involving a cat, a monkey, chestnuts and fire. Justice Scalia provides more information at footnote 1 of his majority opinion.)

A jury found that Mr. Staub’s “military status was a motivating factor in [Proctor’s] decision to discharge him,” and awarded $57,640 in damages. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that Proctor was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Ms. Buck had relied on more than just the supervisors’ advice in making her termination decision.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Upholds “Cat’s Paw” Liability