Seventh Circuit Review


In its recent decision in Staub v. Proctor Hospital, the Seventh Circuit clarified its approach to the colorfully named "cat's paw" theory of employment discrimination. The cat's paw doctrine holds employers vicariously liable when an employee involved in the decisionmaking process, other than the non-biased formal decisionmaker, possessed discriminatory intent. Currently, the circuits disagree about how much control the biased employee must possess over the decisionmaker to impose liability on the employer. In Staub, the Seventh Circuit held that liability should be imposed only when the biased employee possessed "singular influence" over the formal decisionmaker, aligning the court most closely with the Fourth Circuit's stringent "actual decisionmaker" rule. In light of the current circuit split, this Note argues that a coherent and uniform standard needs to be adopted to decide these common cases. It analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the circuits' various rules, concluding that no current approach provides a satisfying solution. Accordingly, this Note suggests that courts should adopt the "motivating factor" standard of causation, should more carefully scrutinize whether an independent investigation breaks the causal chain, and should apply agency principles as a proper limitation on liability.

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