Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is Cat's Paw?

A brief entry tonight to provide a quick summary of the so-called "cat's paw" theory of liability and the basis for the colorful title. The name comes from French poet Jean de La Fontaine's fable, The Monkey and the Cat <- full text of the fable written in verse.

As the Tenth Circuit explained in EEOC v. BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Los Angeles, 450 F.3d 476 (2006):
"The 'cat's paw' doctrine derives its name from a fable, made famous by La Fontaine, in which a monkey convinces an unwitting cat to pull chestnuts from a hot fire. See Fables of La Fontaine 344 (Walter Thornbury trans., Chartwell Books 1984). As the cat scoops the chestnuts from the fire one by one, burning his paw in the process, the monkey eagerly gobbles them up, leaving none left for the cat. Id. Today the term 'cat's-paw' refers to 'one used by another to accomplish his purposes.' Webster's Third New International Dictionary Unabridged 354 (2002). In the employment discrimination context, 'cat's paw' refers to a situation in which a biased subordinate, who lacks decisionmaking power, uses the formal decisionmaker as a dupe in a deliberate scheme to trigger a discriminatory employment action. Llampallas v. Mini-Circuits, Lab, Inc., 163 F.3d 1236, 1249 (11th Cir.1998)."
That's the "Cat's Paw" theory and the origin of its name in a nutshell. Different Circuits handle the situation in different ways, but that's another topic for another day.