HRBK scores win before United States Supreme Court

 Home / News / News Item 2
U.S. Supreme Court sides with ex-Proctor employee

Reproduced from the Peoria Journal Star

Julie L. Galassi represents Vincent Staub in the USERRA action described in this article from the Peoria Journal Star. The decision of the United States Supreme Court can be found here.

PEORIA - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with a former Proctor Hospital employee who claimed he was fired because of his military service and, in the process, potentially resolved a long-standing legal issue regarding workplace discrimination.

By an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court agreed with Vincent Staub that his military service was a factor and that employers such as Proctor can be held liable for the actions of their employees.

"An employer's authority to reward, punish, or dismiss is often allocated among multiple agents. The one who makes the ultimate decision does so on the basis of performance assessments by other supervisors," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia.

"We therefore hold that if a supervisor performs an act motivated by anti-military animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an adverse employment action, and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action, then the employer is liable" under the federal anti-discrimination law for members of the military, Scalia wrote.

The theory, dubbed the "cat's paw," has divided the appellate circuits as some wanted more direct links of bias along the supervisory ladder. Peoria attorney Julie Galassi, part of Staub's legal team, said Tuesday's decision changes that.

"Employers cannot create artificial situations to insulate themselves from discrimination laws already in place," she said. "This is a victory not only for Staub but for other Reserve and Guard members, that they can't be fired because they have answered the call of duty."

Staub sued in 2004, under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which prohibits using a position in the Guard or the Reserves as a basis for termination or disciplinary action. He was an angiography technologist at Proctor and in the U.S. Army Reserves in 2004 when he was fired from his job of 15 years.

Proctor contended at the 2008 trial his position with the Army had nothing to do with his termination. A federal jury disagreed and found Staub's status as a reservist was a "motivating factor in (Proctor's) decision to terminate him in 2004," and awarded him $57,640, the amount he lost in back wages.

The verdict was tossed out in 2009, by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held Staub didn't prove the person who actually dismissed him had bias. It was his immediate supervisor, not the one who made the final decision, who had bias. There was no evidence the other person had anything against Staub.

Tuesday's decision overturns the 7th Circuit and sends the case back. It can either be retried in Peoria's federal court or the original verdict reinstated.

It is unclear whether the court's reasoning also would apply to job discrimination claims brought under other federal laws. Justice

Elena Kagan did not take part in the case because she worked on it when she served in the Justice Department.

Staub, who served with the Bartonville-based 801st Combat Support Hospital, is now working at a hospital in Macomb, Galassi said. When asked about her client's reaction, she said he was in "shock." The Supreme Court only grants review to about five percent of the cases that appeal a lower court's ruling, so that Staub's case was heard at all is a feat in and of itself.

Proctor issued a written statement Tuesday stating they could not comment on the details of Staub's employment or his dismissal because of his position as a former employee. The hospital maintains its actions were appropriate.

"We are confident our employment decision was appropriate and unrelated to Mr. Staub's service in the Army Reserve. We are proud of our long-standing history of supporting the Armed Forces. We are fully committed to providing equal opportunities in employment. We value our people, treat them fairly and work together with one goal in mind, to provide quality health care for our community," said Steve Wilson, a hospital spokesman, in the written statement.