Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted an anti-employment discrimination statute in a pro-employee way. On Tuesday the Court did it again, in Staub v. Proctor.

Staub is a U.S. Army reservist who worked at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, Ilinois. His supervisor and his supervisor's supervisor were reportedly hostile towards his military service and the demands it placed on Staub's time. According to Staub, and the jury that agreed with him, his supervisors decided to get rid of him -- by manufacturing a rule and Staub's supposed violation of that rule to justify his firing.

Jury Verdict Vacated

Although his supervisors did not have the power to fire him, the person that did explicitly referred to Staub's alleged rule-breaking to justify his firing. As a result, the jury found that Proctor Hospital violated a 1994 statute, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

But the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated the jury's verdict for Staub. The higher court found that, as a matter of law, the supervisors didn't have enough influence over the decision to fire Staub for their anti-military bias to matter. But the Supreme Court unanimously reversed that decision, with an opinion by Justice Scalia and a concurring opinion by Justices Alito and Thomas. (The unanimous vote was 8-0 because Justice Kagan recused herself.)

The Court held the person doing the actual firing need not be anti-military. The employer, according to their ruling, was liable if an anti-military supervisor does something that is intended to cause a higher-up to fire a military employee (or take some other adverse employment action) -- and that the bias-driven action triggers the firing. So Proctor Hospital could be liable for the anti-military supervisors' efforts "to get rid of" Staub -- because the firing decision appeared to be based on those supervisors' reports.

'A' Motivating Factor vs. 'The' Motivating Factor

Although Justices Alito and Thomas agreed that Proctor Hospital could be liable to Staub, they wanted the Court to hold that the person doing the actual firing had to be motivated by anti-military bias. The reason they agreed Proctor Hospital could be liable is that the person who fired Staub failed to investigate his complaint -- that Staub's supervisors were motivated by anti-military bias. Since that person didn't investigate, she effectively delegated the decision to fire to the biased supervisors. As a result, Justices Alito and Thomas would immunize employers that investigated such complaints and decided they were unfounded.

But the Court's decision doesn't mean the case is over, or that Staub gets the $58,000 the jury awarded him. At the trial, the jury was told an anti-military bias had to be a motivating factor in the firing -- rather than, as the Court in effect held, the motivating factor. The Seventh Circuit must now decide if the jury instruction is simply a case of "harmless error" -- or if Proctor Hospital is entitled to a new trial.

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March 02 2011 at 9:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


March 02 2011 at 9:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Written by a Republican I presume. We all KNOW that the so called 'supreme court' with its gang of senile morons are totally out of touch with the real world. The headline suggests that its their habit to agree with employees when the FACTS show that the opposite is true and that corporations are ALWAYS given the benefit of the doubt. We The People should be able to get rid of the senile biased fat asses on the court that are literally fire proof regardless of how stupid they are proven to be. They and their decisions are a throw back to the days of buckled shoes and powdered wigs and and mule carts so maybe someone should let them know that we now live in the 21st century. That would be a huge improvement.

March 02 2011 at 6:13 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

>"Supreme Court Sides with Employees, Again"<

This misleading (lying) headline would give the impression that the SCOTUS sides with every employee every time. That is not the case. What the story tells is that SCOTUS sided with THIS employee again.

In a time when there is so much contention and class warfare directed by the democrats toward the people who actually pay the wages, this headline is worded and intended to do no more than give the impression to those simple minds who only read headlines that SCOTUS will always adjudicate on the side of workers, no matter what. That just isn't so.

March 02 2011 at 11:44 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The two egg head bosses should serve time with some really gang like cell mates so they can be treated justly!

March 02 2011 at 11:40 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Dewey and Candace

Don't you care what the so-called new rule was the company gave? Don't you find it a little suspicious that this article didn't tell us? After all, the new rule (and the fact Staub says it's "bogus") is the pivotal point in the court case. And yet we aren't told what that "new rule" was. I'm sorry, but I believe in making decisions based on all of the facts, and I'm smart enough to know that there are always two side to every story. Here, we are only getting the side of the guy who was fired.

March 02 2011 at 11:40 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Knee jerk reaction here ... won a battle but loosing the war. Too much focus on the A Motivating Factor vs The Motivating Factor, might come back in in future cases. But we don't have enough background on this case to argue. Do agree with Sandy ... 8 to 0 ... give him his money and go to something else. Terrible how we still treat our service people ... terrible. Those mortgage cases ...

March 02 2011 at 11:36 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply


March 02 2011 at 11:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dewey and Candace

"...by manufacturing a rule and Staub's supposed violation of that rule..." WHAT RULE? Billsfbay says "They made up a bogus new rule regarding serving in the military, being in the miltary reserves, and serving active duty." I didn't read that. No where in the article does it specify that. That's an assumption. WHAT WAS THE ACTUAL WORDING OF THE NEW RULE?

March 02 2011 at 11:24 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Dewey and Candace

What reason did they give for firing him? Kind of hard to figure out who's the screw up here if they don't give us all the facts. All we've been told is that a military person had a civilian job (between military commitments) and HE SAID they fired him because they didn't agree with his military service. I want to know what reason THE COMPANY gave.

March 02 2011 at 11:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply