Monday, January 05, 2004

Fourth Circuit swats away cat's pay theory of Title VII liability

In Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Management, Inc., the Fourth Circuit sitting en banc voted 7-4 to affirm the district court's granting summary judgment against the plaintiff's claims of employment discrimination. Judge Traxler wrote the opinion for the majority, which included Chief Judge Wilkins and Judges Widener, Wilkinson, Williams, Luttig, and Niemeyer. The dissent was written by Judge Michael and joined by Judges Motz, King, and Gregory. The appellant employer was represented by Ronald Rayson, who though from Knoxville strangely enough is not affiliated with the excellent Kramer Rayson firm.

A major focus of the case is the viability of the cat's paw or rubberstamp theory of showing that the decisionmaker was influenced by a subordinate with discriminatory motives. The majority more or less says that theory doesn't carry any weight with them. The dissent buys the "substantial influence" theory advanced by the EEOC and the appellee employee.

I once wrote a little article that touched briefly on the cat's paw/rubber stamp theory as one way of showing discriminatory intent, but I'm not sure that it is anything more than a way of talking about the facts, rather than some kind of vicarious liability for hidden motives.

I suppose that critics of this decision would also complain that there is too much talk about the facts in this opinion. But, as I have tried to argue, just because there are a lot of facts does not mean that there are a lot of facts in material dispute.

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