For reasons beyond explaining employment discrimination law has incorporated the "cat's paw doctrine" to dress up what is a proximate cause analysis. The "cat's paw doctrine" appeared in the Court of Appeals recent decision, Lindsey v. Bd. of Trustees of the University of Kentucky.
Tonya Lindsey, an African-American woman, began working in healthcare for UK in 1990. She claimed that she was passed over for a promotion on three separate occasions on account of her race and gender. She later added a retaliation claim as well, one arising, as Lindsey pleaded her complaint, from the actions of her supervisor, Lisa Turner. Turner actually became Lindsey's supervisor after Lindsey had filed the discrimination suit.
The Fayette Circuit Court granted a summary judgment to the defendants, a decision that appeared to leave Lindsey's case in the shallows at best. Turner, a couple of months later, filed a cross-claim against UK and claimed, among other things, that "she was pressured by her superiors to closely scrutinize Lindsey so that Lindsey could be fired" and that he succumbed to this pressure out of fear for her own job. This caused the circuit court to vacate the summary judgment. To shorten the story, Turner later dismissed her cross-claim, and the circuit court granted summary judgment again to the defendants and this time on all claims.
The Court of Appeals reversed as to the retaliation claim, and invoked the "cat's paw" in so doing. Turner had not known of Lindsey's discrimination suit, but her assertion that she had been directed to dig up dirt, so to speak, on Lindsey and her further assertion that she feared for her job if she did not do so created a fact issue as to whether Turner was simply the unwitting and proximate cause of an unlawful retaliatory intent by the higher-ups at UK. The Court explained as follows:
This is known as the "cat's paw" theory of liability. A plaintiff alleging liability under the cat's paw theory seeks "to hold his employer liable for the animus of a supervisor who was not charged with making the ultimate employment decision." Thus, even if Turner herself lacked discriminatory intent, UK many nonetheless be liable if Turner's decision to recommend Lindsey's termination was caused by one of its agents acting with a discriminatory intent.
Lindsey was represented by the now-late William C. Jacobs. Bill Jacobs was one of Kentucky's great lawyers; he represented the plaintiff in the landmark Kentucky sexual harassment case, Meyers v. Chapman Printing, 840 S.W.2d 814 (Ky. 1992), and represented the plaintiff in a case that changed the way public library systems are funded in Kentucky, LFUCG v. Hayse, 684 S.W.3d 301 (Ky. App. 1984).