Supreme Court Extends Federal Reach Against Job Discrimination

The Supreme Court recently increased the reach of the federal laws to combat job discrimination, ruling that employees are protected from illegal bias not just from a top decision maker, but from other supervisors too.
According to a report from The Los Angeles Times, the justices commented the crucial issue is whether illegal bias was a "motivating factor" in the choice to terminate an employee. Companies and public agencies are not shielded from liability, they concluded, simply due to the fact the supervisor who made the decision to fire a worker did so for valid reasons. If other supervisors are biased and influence the decision, the employer can be held at fault, they argued. (WCxKit)
For at least a decade, lower courts have had differing views as to whether the workplace civil rights laws should center narrowly on the single supervisor who makes hiring and firing decisions, or more broadly on the many supervisors who influence the outcome. By a unanimous vote, the high court chose the broad approach.
The decision restores a $57,640 jury verdict in favor of Vincent Staub, an Army reservist who was terminated from his employment as a medical technician at the Proctor Hospital in Peoria, Illinois. He contended a pair of his supervisors were biased against him because he was absent on weekends due to his military duties.
They claimed he put a "strain on the department," and others had "to bend over backwards to cover" for him.
The complaints go to the hospital's vice president for human resources. She looked into remarks that Staub was "abrupt" with others and was at times absent from his work location. She decided to terminate him.
Staub sued, relying on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act of 1994, which forbids discrimination against employees due to their military duties. Justice Scalia said this law is "very similar" to the other federal civil rights laws that forbid discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin. The pair of statutes is in play if the illegal bias was a "motivating factor" in the employers decision.
Though a jury ruled for Staub, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago tossed out the verdict. Its decision discounted the comments of his direct supervisors and said the vice president for human resources acted by herself.
Then-U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan encouraged the court to listen to the case of Staub v. Proctor Hospital and to adopt the broader interpretation of the federal workplace discrimination laws. (WCxKit)
They did so in an 8-0 vote, with Kagan not voting.
Author Rebecca Shafer, JD, President of Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. See for more information. or 860-553-6604.
Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers comp issues.
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