Monday, March 21, 2011

Tenth Circuit: Employee Did Not Waive Right to Bring Later Court Action After Union Arbitration Proceeding

On March 16, 2011, the Tenth Circuit overruled a district court decision that dismissed a discrimination claim brought by a former union member.  The district court had determined that, because the former employee and union member had participated in a union arbitration of an anti-discrimination contract clause that had required the arbitrator to analyze the claim under the applicable state and federal law, the former employee had waived his right to seek a judicial remedy.  In reversing the district court, the Tenth Circuit stated that it did not matter that the arbitrator had applied federal law in arbitrating the breach of union contract claim becaue "the district court's conclusion ignores the 'distinctly separate nature' of contractual and statutory rights, which is 'not vitiated merely because both wree violated as a result of the same factual occurrence.'"  Thus, the Tenth Circuit reiterated the principle that a union employee does not waive his statutory right to bring a claim in a judicial forum unless the specific language of the collective bargaining agreement provides otherwise. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

United States Supreme Court: If a Supervisor Performs an Act Motivated by Antimilitary Animus, Employers May Be Liable Even If a Different Supervisor Fires the Employee


In Staub v. Proctor Hospital, an opinion issued today, the United States Supreme Court ruled  that an employer can be liable for a violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) even if the supervisor who ultimately made the decision to discipline an employee was not motivated by anti-military animus. 

The Court considered the argument of the employer that, although the immediate supervisors of the employee who was in the Army Reserve did act with a discriminatory intent, it did not matter because the supervisor who did fire him did not act with discriminatory intent.  In rejecting that argument, the Court stated that, because the disciplining supervisor relied on earlier discriminatory disciplinary action taken against the employee by the other supervisors, her decision violated USERRA.  "[I]f 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."  The Court further explained, "The decisionmaker's exercise of judgment is also a proximate cause of the employment decision, but it is common for injuries to have multiple proximate causes."  The Court also rejected a rule that would entirely immunize an employer who conducts an independent investigation, stating that only "if the employer's investigation results in an adverse action for reasons unrelated to the supervisor's original biased action" will the employer be free from liability.