562 U.S. 411 (2011), 09-400, Staub v. Proctor Hosp.

Docket Nº:09-400
Citation:562 U.S. 411, 131 S.Ct. 1186, 179 L.Ed.2d 144, 79 U.S.L.W. 4126
Opinion Judge:SCALIA, JUSTICE
Party Name:VINCENT E. STAUB, PETITIONER v. PROCTOR HOSPITAL
Attorney:Patricia Ann Millet, Aikin Gump Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP, Washington, DC, Eric Schnapper, Counsel of Record, School of Law, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Julie L. Galassi Hasselberg, Rock, Bell & Kuppler LLP, Peoria, IL, for petitioner. Roy G. Davis, Counsel of Record, Richard A. Russo...
Judge Panel:SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Tho
Case Date:March 01, 2011
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 411

562 U.S. 411 (2011)

131 S.Ct. 1186, 179 L.Ed.2d 144, 79 U.S.L.W. 4126

VINCENT E. STAUB, PETITIONER

v.

PROCTOR HOSPITAL

No. 09-400

United States Supreme Court

March 1, 2011

Argued November 2, 2010

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

[179 L.Ed.2d 148] [131 S.Ct. 1187]Syllabus [*]

While employed as an angiography technician by respondent Proctor Hospital, petitioner Staub was a member of the United States Army Reserve. Both his immediate supervisor (Mulally) and Mulally's supervisor (Korenchuk) were hostile to his military obligations. Mulally gave Staub a disciplinary warning which included a directive requiring Staub to report to her or Korenchuk when his cases were completed. After receiving a report from Korenchuk that Staub had violated the Corrective Action, Proctor's vice president of human resources (Buck) reviewed Staub's personnel file and decided to fire him. Staub filed a grievance, claiming that Mulally had fabricated the allegation underlying the warning out of hostility toward his military obligations, but Buck adhered to her decision. Staub sued Proctor under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which forbids an employer to deny "employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion, or any benefit of employment" based on a person's "membership" in or "obligation to perform service in a uniformed service," 38 U.S.C. §4311(a), and provides that liability is established "if the person's membership . . . is a motivating factor in the employer's action," §4311(c). He contended not that Buck was motivated by hostility to his military obligations, but that Mulally and Korenchuk were, and that their actions influenced Buck's decision. A jury found Proctor liable and awarded Staub damages, but the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that Proctor was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the decisionmaker had relied on more than Mulally's and Korenchuk's advice in making her decision.

Held:

1. If a supervisor performs an act motivated by antimilitary 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 USERRA. In construing the phrase "motivating factor in the employer's action," this Court starts from the premise that when Congress creates a federal tort it adopts the background of general tort law. See, e.g., Burlington N. & S. F. R. Co. v. United States, 556 U.S. 599, 614, 129 S.Ct. 1870, 173 L.Ed.2d 812. Intentional torts such as the one here "generally require that the actor intend [131 S.Ct. 1188] 'the consequences' of an act,' not simply 'the act itself.' " Kawaauhau v. Geiger, 523 U.S. 57, 61-62,

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118 S.Ct. 974, 140 L.Ed.2d [179 L.Ed.2d 149] 90. However, Proctor errs in contending that an employer is not liable unless the de facto decisionmaker is motivated by discriminatory animus. So long as the earlier agent intended, for discriminatory reasons, that the adverse action occur, he has the scienter required for USERRA liability. Moreover, it is axiomatic under tort law that the decisionmaker's exercise of judgment does not prevent the earlier agent's action from being the proximate cause of the harm. See Hemi Group, LLC v. City of New York, 559 U.S. 1, ___, 130 S.Ct. 983, 175 L.Ed.2d 943. Nor can the ultimate decisionmaker's judgment be deemed a superseding cause of the harm. See Exxon Co., U.S. A. v. Sofec, Inc., 517 U.S. 830, 837, 116 S.Ct. 1813, 135 L.Ed.2d 113. Proctor's approach would have an improbable consequence: If an employer isolates a personnel official from its supervisors, vests the decision to take adverse employment actions in that official, and asks that official to review the employee's personnel file before taking the adverse action, then the employer will be effectively shielded from discriminatory acts and recommendations of supervisors that were designed and intended to produce the adverse action. Proctor also errs in arguing that a decision-maker's independent investigation, and rejection, of an employee's discriminatory animus allegations should negate the effect of the prior discrimination. Pp. 1190-1194, 179 L.Ed.2d, at 151-155.

2. Applying this analysis here, the Seventh Circuit erred in holding that Proctor was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Both Mulally and Korenchuk acted within the scope of their employment when they took the actions that allegedly caused Buck to fire Staub. There was also evidence that their actions were motivated by hostility toward Staub's military obligations, and that those actions were causal factors underlying Buck's decision. Finally, there was evidence that both Mulally and Korenchuk had the specific intent to cause Staub's termination. The Seventh Circuit is to consider in the first instance whether the variance between the jury instruction given at trial and the rule adopted here was harmless error or should mandate a new trial. Pp. 1194 -1195, 179 L.Ed.2d, at 155-156.

560 F.3d 647, reversed and remanded.

Motion of the Acting Solicitor General for leave to participate in oral argument as amicus curiae and for divided argument granted.

Motion of Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America for leave to file a brief as amicus curiae out of time granted.

Patricia Ann Millet, Aikin Gump Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP, Washington, DC, Eric Schnapper, Counsel of Record, School of Law, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Julie L. Galassi Hasselberg, Rock, Bell & Kuppler LLP, Peoria, IL, for petitioner.

Roy G. Davis, Counsel of Record, Richard A. Russo, Abby J. Clark, Davis & Campbell L.L.C., Peoria, Illinois, for respondent.

Julie L. Galassi, Troy L. Plattner, Hasselberg, Rock, Bell & Kuppler LLP, Peoria, IL, Eric Schnapper, Counsel of Record, University of Washington School of [131 S.Ct. 1189] Law, William H. Gates Hall, Seattle, WA, Patricia Ann Millett, Akin Gump Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP, Washington, DC, for petitioner.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined. KAGAN, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of these motions.

OPINION

SCALIA, JUSTICE

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We consider the circumstances under which an employer may be held liable for employment discrimination based on the discriminatory animus of an employee who influenced, but did not make, the ultimate employment decision.

I

Petitioner Vincent Staub worked as an angiography technician for respondent Proctor Hospital until 2004, when he was fired. Staub and Proctor hotly dispute the facts surrounding the firing, but because a jury found for Staub in his claim of employment discrimination against Proctor, we describe [179 L.Ed.2d 150] the facts viewed in the light most favorable to him.

While employed by Proctor, Staub was a member of the United States Army Reserve, which required him to attend drill one weekend per month and to train full time for two to

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three weeks a year. Both Janice Mulally, Staub's immediate supervisor, and Michael Korenchuk, Mulally's supervisor, were hostile to Staub's military obligations. Mulally scheduled Staub for additional shifts without notice so that he would " 'pa[y] back the department for everyone else having to bend over backwards to cover [his] schedule for the Reserves.'" 560 F.3d 647, 652 (CA7 2009). She also informed Staub's co-worker, Leslie Sweborg, that Staub's "'military duty had been a strain on th[e] department,'" and asked Sweborg to help her "'get rid of him.'" Ibid. Korenchuk referred to Staub's military obligations as "'a b[u]nch of smoking and joking and [a] waste of taxpayers['] money.'" Ibid. He was also aware that Mulally was "'out to get'" Staub. Ibid.

In January 2004, Mulally issued Staub a "Corrective Action" disciplinary warning for purportedly violating a company rule requiring him to stay in his work area whenever he was not working with a patient. The Corrective Action included a directive requiring Staub to report to Mulally or Korenchuk "'when [he] ha[d] no patients and [the angio] cases [we]re complete[d].'" Id., at 653. According to Staub, Mulally's justification for the Corrective Action was false for two reasons: First, the company rule invoked by Mulally did not exist; and second, even if it did, Staub did not violate it.

On April 2, 2004, Angie Day, Staub's co-worker, complained to Linda Buck, Proctor's vice president of human resources, and Garrett McGowan, Proctor's chief operating officer, about Staub's frequent unavailability and abruptness. McGowan directed Korenchuk and Buck to create a plan that would solve Staub's "'availability' problems." Id., at 654. But three weeks later, before they had time to do so, Korenchuk informed Buck that Staub had left his desk without informing a supervisor, in violation of the January Corrective Action. Staub now contends this accusation was false: he had left Korenchuk a voice-mail notification that he was

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leaving his desk. Buck relied on Korenchuk's accusation, however, and after reviewing Staub's personnel file, she decided to fire him. The termination notice stated that Staub had ignored the directive issued in the January 2004 Corrective Action.

Staub challenged his firing through Proctor's grievance process, claiming that [131 S.Ct. 1190] Mulally had fabricated the allegation underlying the Corrective Action out of hostility toward his military obligations. Buck did not follow up with Mulally about this claim. After discussing the matter with another personnel officer, Buck adhered to her decision.

Staub sued Proctor under the Uniformed...

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